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As the US death toll from Covid-19 closed in on 250,000 on Wednesday, with a caseload above 11.3m and more than 161,000 new cases added the previous day, an internal White House taskforce report warned of “aggressive, unrelenting, broad community spread across the country, without evidence of improvement but, rather, further deterioration”.
The report, which leaked widely to the media, added: “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased.”
Daily death numbers are rising: 1,707 were reported by Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday. With some forecast models predicting a death toll beyond 400,000 by March, a year after the pandemic began, states across the US are implementing targeted social restrictions in attempts to beat back rising case numbers and reduce pressure on hospital resources.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, an all-time high of 76,830 people were hospitalised with the virus as of Wednesday morning.
Speaking anonymously, one White House official told the Associated Press the taskforce had concluded existing efforts to slow the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve” and that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, around the US holiday next Thursday, could “amplify transmission considerably”.
On Wednesday, president-elect Joe Biden was due to stage a virtual meeting with frontline healthcare workers. Continuing to prepare for government without a concession from Donald Trump and consequent federal government support, Biden has named a Covid advisory board and made tackling the pandemic a key focus of plans for his first steps in power next January.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House taskforce, has said Trumpwho is in the White House with no public events scheduled, has not attended a taskforce meeting for five months.
On Tuesday, Fauci said he regretted not pushing harder for mass testing earlier in the pandemic.
“Deep down, perhaps I should’ve been much more vocal about saying, ‘We really absolutely gotta do that,’” he told the Stat Summit healthcare conference. “I said it, it went nowhere and maybe I should have kept pushing the envelope on that.
“It never became a reality because we never really had enough tests to do the tests that you had to do.”
Fauci also said: “Community spread doesn’t stop spontaneously unless you do something about it. It is easier to stop when the level is relatively low. The only way that you can get at community spread is that you need to test people who are without symptoms, in order to show what the degree of penetrance of infection is.”
Fauci praised the federal Operation Warp Speed vaccine development programme that pairs government with private sector efforts, but said: “A vaccine should not be considered as a total substitute at this point for public health measures.
“In my mind, it should be an incentive for people who have Covid fatigue and are really tired of public health measures to say, ‘You know there is light at the end of the tunnel, help is coming, let me hang in there a bit longer.’
“If we could just hang on enough to do that until we get enough people vaccinated to turn around the dynamics of the outbreak, we will be OK. We will be OK.”
Around the US, many counties, cities and states are in crisis. On Wednesday, Axios, using Johns Hopkins data, reported rising cases in 83% of counties.
“Crowley county, Colorado, and Lee county, Kentucky, had the first- and third-highest caseloads per 100,000 people this week,” Axios reported. “Both were the site of prison-based outbreaks.”
Many Republican-led states are struggling. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine has ordered a three-week curfew, from 10pm to 5am statewide. In Texas, in scenes reminiscent of New York in the early days of the pandemic, a convention center in El Paso has been turned into a field hospital and the city has more cases than the larger metropolitan centers of Houston and Dallas combined.
In Arkansas, governor Asa Hutchinson has warned that 1,000 people are likely to die in the state before Christmas.
“We are on the precipice of a significant and possibly uncontrollable rise in cases,” Arkansas state health secretary Jose Romero said on Tuesday. “This is like a boulder rolling down a hill. There will come a time when we can not stop it … Now is the time to act.”
South Dakota, suffering particularly badly, remains without even a mask mandate, regarding the wearing of facial coverings in public. Its governor, Kristi Noem, is a rising star of the Trumpist right.
“The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked – in the United States or abroad,” a spokeswoman for Noem, Maggie Seidel, claimed to the AP this week.
Local authorities are stepping into the breach. The Rapid City-area school system, for example, planned to close all schools and move to virtual instruction on Wednesday, after data showed 94 students and 47 staff with active Covid-19 cases and 105 staff and 676 students in quarantine following exposure.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid deaths near 250,000 as US urged to act to stop ‘unrelenting’ spread | US news