White House health experts have warned of a slow rise in the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus in US cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, and urged local leaders to remain vigilant to avoid a surge.
“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN yesterday.
The US death toll is now over 158,000 – the most in the world – with 4.8mn known cases.
On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly-infectious coronavirus.
Yesterday Ohio Governor Mike DeWine became the latest senior elected US official to test positive.
He said that he was tested as part of a safety protocol to greet President Donald Trump as he arrives in Cleveland to visit a factory.
Fauci was speaking after the White House coronavirus task force co-ordinator, Dr Deborah Birx, identified new areas of concern for infections in a telephone call with state and local officials on Wednesday.
Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and the Central Valley in California, Birx said on the call, a recording of which was obtained by the journalism non-profit Centre for Public Integrity.
White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive Covid-19 tests in Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Washington.
Those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.
Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, those who do not wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines can keep the virus smouldering.
“Unless everybody pulls together ... we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said, noting that such increases are often followed by rising hospitalisations and deaths.
The epicentre of the US outbreak initially focused on the highly populated area around New York City, but has since spread to diverse communities from coast to coast, driven in part by summer vacation travel.
Birx has been travelling around the country talking to local and state officials in recent weeks, sending regular warnings not to relax until the virus is under control.
Her message has often been in contrast to that of Trump, who on Wednesday said the virus “will go away like things go away”.
Trump also said children are “almost immune” from Covid-19, prompting Facebook on Wednesday to take down his post containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement (see accompanying report below).
Facebook said the post violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.
Trump has urged state and local authorities in charge of public schools to re-open on time for in-person learning as part of his efforts to get Americans back to work and spending again.
In rural Mississippi’s Corinth school district, where schools opened two weeks ago, a number of students and teachers have had to go into quarantine after five cases of Covid-19 were confirmed, Superintendent Edward Lee Childress said on Facebook Live, without specifying how many.
The decision to reopen schools took into account the “inevitable moment” that Covid-19 would be detected and contact tracing plans triggered, he said.
“We’re going to have some more positive cases. We know it will happen,” Childress said.
The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits fell last week, but a staggering 31.3mn people were receiving unemployment cheques in mid-July, suggesting the resurgence in Covid-19 cases is threatening a budding economic recovery.
“Repeated shutdowns for virus containment remain a threat to the labour market, which is already weak,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York.
Other data yesterday showed a 54% surge in job cuts announced by employers in July.
A strong economy is one of the pillars of Trump’s re-election campaign.
With less than 100 days to go until the November 3 vote, polls show the Republican trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, in part because of his response to the health and economic crisis.
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