Nationally, over the last seven days, the US is averaging just under 53,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day, down 11% from the week prior.
As a result of all those cases, deaths from the virus have remained high. The seven-day average of daily coronavirus deaths was just over 1,000 on Tuesday, the 16th consecutive day the US averaged over 1,000 deaths per day.
And it will continue to rattle American society until people more seriously adopt recommended public health measures: social distancing, avoiding large indoor gatherings, hand-washing, mask-wearing, rapid testing and quarantining the sick.
“We have to figure out how to deal with this as a whole country because as long as there are cases happening in any part, we still have transit, especially now we have students going back to college,” said Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Any cases anywhere really keep risk pretty high all across the entirety of the United States.”
In Texas, state officials redoubled their efforts to get residents to wear masks and practice social distancing, and suggested people have let their guard down.
“The most important thing I could convey today that is even though the numbers of Covid-19 have improved, it has not left Jefferson County, it has not left Orange County, it has not left the state of Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news conference Tuesday.
Texas has been at the center of a summer surge in coronavirus cases along with California and Florida, which are both reporting thousands of new daily cases. Infection and hospitalization metrics are improving in the state, but are “still too high,” he said. To get businesses running more regularly, Texans need to lower the state’s test-positivity rate below 10% and stick to safety precautions, he said. The state’s test positivity has averaged over 20% the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Texas’s case spike in July came after people let their guards down as the state reopened, Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames said in the news conference with Abbott. And rising positivity rates now could be the result of the same thing, Abbott said.
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“There’s a reason why this is happening, I believe, and that is some people feel if they’re just with family members — even if it’s 50 family members — they can let their guard down,” Abbott said. “And that turns out not to be the case.”
Texas’ average new coronavirus cases rose from a plateau of around 1,500 per day in early June to more than 10,000 daily by mid-July. They’ve dipped to an average of about 7,300 daily on Tuesday, Johns Hopkins data show. Nationwide, more than 5.1 million people have tested positive for the virus and more than 164,500 have died, according to Johns Hopkins.
Positive tests amid starts to a new school year
School buildings have been reopening across the country, even as new coronavirus cases among students and staff have been reported in places where in-person learning has resumed.
In Ohio, more than a third of students, totaling about 590,000 children, will return to full-time in-person learning, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.
But of the 101 largest school districts in the country, 63 will start the new academic year remotely.
Public schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey, had to scrap plans to return to classrooms and switch to virtual learning after more than 400 teachers notified the district that they could not return to campus due to “special considering for health-related risks.”
Students have not yet returned to school in the Broken Arrow Public School District in Oklahoma, but 33 district employees tested positive last week, Superintendent Janet Vinson said Monday, according to Tulsa World.
Meanwhile, North Paulding High School in Georgia will announce plans to reopen Wednesday after reporting several virus cases and receiving criticism over a viral photo that showed students — few wearing masks — walking in a packed school hallway.
Rely on the science and avoid the politics, Fauci says
Although practices like wearing face coverings have been politicized, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday he has learned that in order to be a good public health leader in a crisis, you have to divorce yourself from politics, rely on science and be as transparent as possible.
“Completely divorce yourself from the kind of political undertones that sometimes go into an important outbreak like this,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said as he was honored with a 2020 Citizen Leadership Award on Tuesday night by the Aspen Institute.
“You’ve got to stay away from that, lead by example, be perfectly honest and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something when you don’t know it. I find that to be a very good formula when you’re dealing in a crisis.”
Even with the polarization, every state in the US passed at least one physical distancing measure in March to slow the spread, researchers from Harvard University and University College London said. Those measures worked, a new study found.
Physical distancing resulted in a reduction of more than 600,000 cases within just three weeks, according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS. Had there not been preventative interventions, the models suggest up to 80% of Americans would have been infected with Covid-19.
“In short, these measures work, and policy makers should use them as an arrow in their quivers to get on top of local epidemics where they are not responding to containment measures,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Mark J. Siedner in a news release
Rushing, but not racing, toward a vaccine
A vaccine against the virus is anxiously anticipated, but health experts said that the US will not rush its development — even as Russia announces its own.
“We will require any vaccine in the United States be safe and effective and meet the FDA’s gold standard,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a news conference from Taipei, Taiwan, adding that “this is not a race to be first.”
Russia claims to have approved a “world first” coronavirus vaccine, but is only in the first step of clinical trials, Azar said. And data from those trials have not been made public.
Fauci has serious doubts that Russia’s approved vaccine is safe and effective, he told Deborah Roberts of ABC News.
“We have half a dozen or more vaccines,” Fauci said. “So if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that’s not the way it works.”
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Meridith Edwards, Dave Alsup, Kay Jones, Rebekah Riess and Andrea Kane contributed to this report.