Leaders in several states warn residents to be on guard as worrying Covid-19 trends emerge

Leaders in states across the country are sounding the alarm about rising Covid-19 cases that experts say could foreshadow a coming surge.

a person taking a selfie in a car: Medical technicians work at a drive-thru coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing facility at the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals company's Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York, U.S. September 17, 2020. Picture taken September 17, 2020. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

© Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Medical technicians work at a drive-thru coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing facility at the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals company’s Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York, U.S. September 17, 2020. Picture taken September 17, 2020. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

In New York, several Covid-19 clusters have created 20 “hotspot” zip codes — many in New York City — that have an average test-positivity rate of about 5.5% — nearly seven times higher than the rest of the state (0.82%), the governor said.

The clusters are a “stark reminder” that New Yorkers need to stay vigilant, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

“Wear a mask, socially distance, follow the public health guidance — because this thing is not over,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Leading health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have also warned that the US could see an especially challenging fall and winter this year, especially as social settings move indoors during cold weather. They say cities and counties should prepare by keeping safety measures — such as wearing masks and social distancing — in place.

“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Fauci said in a Facebook and Twitter livestream.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday urged the state to stop a recent “escalation” of cases after reporting more than 1,000 new infections for the second day in a row.

“Today’s daily report is too high,” the governor said. “I need your help. It’s up to us and we’ve got to get this done.”

In Wisconsin, cases and hospitalizations are soaring. The state on Wednesday reported its highest ever number of Covid-19 hospitalizations — more than double the numbers seen in late August, when they were in the high 200s, Covid Tracking Project data show.

Wisconsin’s seven-day average of new daily official cases hit a high Wednesday — 2,334, well above the averages in the 600s and 700s seen in late August.

This comes days after the White House coronavirus task force warned Wisconsin of a “rapid worsening” of the pandemic there, and urged the state to increase social distancing as much as possible.

And in Illinois, the governor is tightening restrictions in one part of the state after an increase in positivity rates.

As of early Thursday, at least 27 states were reporting higher seven-day averages of new daily cases than a week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Nationwide, more than 7.2 million people have been infected and more than 206,000 have died.

When a vaccine could be available to US population

On Wednesday, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said if its Covid-19 vaccine is proven safe and effective, it could be available to the general population by late March or early April.

Moderna began its Phase 3 clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine in the US in July. It’s one of four companies that have begun Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials in the US — the others are Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca. The AstraZeneca trial was paused internationally after an unexplained illness in a volunteer, and it still is paused in the US as American health authorities continue considering questions that remain around the experimental vaccine.

“I think a late Q1, early Q2 approval is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine,” Bancel said at a conference hosted by the Financial Times.

But there are several steps that will have to come before that.

If the safety and efficacy data checks out, Bancel says he expects Moderna will be able to file a Biologics License Application (BLA) with the US Food and Drug Administration by late January or early February. That application asks the FDA to consider fully licensing a drug, while an emergency use authorization (EUA) expedites a drug candidate for use on an emergency basis.

Moderna could file for an EUA as early as November 25 for people who are deemed high priority, including health care workers and the elderly, Bancel said at a conference hosted by the Financial Times.

Until a vaccine is available, experts have for long said the country’s most powerful tools against the pandemic are face masks and other safety measures like social distancing. But even when a vaccine is ready, health officials like Fauci have said there will still be room for the virus to spread, as it’s unlikely the vaccine will be 100% effective or taken by 100% of the population.

“I think if we can get 75 to 80% of the population vaccinated, I think that would be a really good accomplishment,” Fauci said last week.

Mississippi lifts mask mandate

Despite officials continuing to advocate for the use of masks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday he will not extend the state’s mask mandate, saying the state’s numbers for average new Covid-19 cases have declined.

“It has been a great few weeks for Covid-19 numbers,” the governor said. “We’ve cut our average number of new cases in half, we’ve cut hospitalizations by two thirds of what they once were.”

Mississippi has reported more than 98,000 infections since the start of the pandemic. According to data from Johns Hopkins, Mississippi is one of 14 states that have been tracking relatively steady in their number of new cases compared to the previous week.

More communities across the country have further loosened restrictions in recent days, including in Florida, where the governor cleared the way for bars and restaurants to fully reopen.

Wyoming, which last week set a single-day record for new Covid-19 cases, also loosened rules around restaurants. Nevada loosened restrictions on public gatherings, while in California, several counties were given the green light to move into less restrictive tiers of the state’s reopening plan.

Despite doing away with the mask mandate in Mississippi, the governor urged residents to continue wearing face coverings, saying it’s the “smart, prudent and wise thing to do.”

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