A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the agency is seeing a “distressing trend” in the United States’ coronavirus outbreak.
Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said Covid-19 cases are now growing “really in all parts of the country,” with particularly high transmission in the Midwest.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a distressing trend here in the United States,” he told reporters on a call. He said the surge is likely due to the arrival of cooler temperatures, adding, “Smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors may be driving transmission as well, especially as they move indoors.”
“I recognize that we are all getting tired of the impact Covid-19 has had on our lives,” he said. “We’re tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it has ever been and I would say even more important than ever as we move into the fall season.”
The U.S. is now reporting roughly 60,000 new Covid-19 cases daily, growing nearly 17% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Figures are based on a weekly average to smooth out fluctuations in daily reporting. Only two states — Hawaii and Virginia — reported declines greater than 5% as of Tuesday.
The U.S. still has the worst outbreak in the world, with more than 8.2 million cases and at least 221,122 deaths, according to Hopkins data.
Health officials and infectious disease experts fear the situation could become dire as flu season begins and hospitals risk reaching capacity.
“If steps are not taken to reduce transmission at the community level, it’ll come to no surprise that health-care systems start to feel a pinch and start to head towards capacity and beyond capacity,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto, told CNBC in a recent interview.
Butler said the U.S. will likely have a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine “very soon,” adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” a vaccine will be available in limited quantities by the end of the year. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on the same call that Pfizer and Moderna, front-runners in the Covid-19 vaccine race, are “very close if not fully enrolled in their trials.”
Butler added every state and jurisdiction has submitted plans to the federal government to distribute a vaccine. The agency had set a deadline of last Friday.
The agency will be providing feedback in the next two weeks, Butler said Wednesday, and the plans are “flexible” as health officials “learn more about which vaccines become available in what amount and when.”
States have less than two weeks to set up distribution centers across the country to meet the Nov. 1 deadline set by the CDC — a monumental undertaking made even more difficult by the fact that a vaccine hasn’t been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and clinical trials of two of the four leading candidates have been halted.
The comments come days after the Trump administration announced a deal with CVS Health and Walgreens to administer coronavirus vaccines to the elderly and staff in long-term care facilities. The vaccine will be free of charge and available for residents in all long-term care settings, Butler told reporters on Friday.
Most of the potential vaccines require two doses, although Johnson Johnson’s requires just one shot, and some of them need to be transported and stored at varying and specific temperatures. Once a vaccine is approved, it will likely be released in stages, with the elderly and health-care workers getting it first, health officials have said.