U.S. reports record 187,833 new Covid cases as CDC warns against Thanksgiving travel

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Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) administer Covid-19 tests at a drive-thru testing site at the Alemany Farmers Market in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The United States reported 187,833 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, yet another record-breaking daily total as U.S. health officials urge Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving and states impose tighter restrictions to slow the persistent spread of the virus.

“We’re alarmed,” Dr. Henry Walke, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid-19 incident manager, said during a press briefing Thursday where the agency urged people not to travel over Thanksgiving.

“One of our concerns is that as people over the holiday season get together, they may actually be bringing infections with them to that small gathering and not even know it,” he said.

The U.S. first crossed 100,000 new Covid-19 cases on the Nov. 3, Election Day, and infections have continued to climb to all-time highs ever since. The nation has reported a weekly average of 165,029 new cases every day, a record-breaking streak that’s lasted for 24 consecutive days, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Unlike other peaks in the spring and summer that hit the Northeast and Sunbelt states, infectious disease experts have said the latest surge has no clear epicenter. Some state and city officials have warned that there’s so much spread, local outbreaks cannot be traced back to a single event or venue.

“I believe this is the most serious public health moment we’ve experienced since 1918 and the swine flu,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell during a Healthy Returns: The Path Forward event on Friday.

“We realize that we have a very dangerous period for the next two weeks that we’re going to have to respond to. We’re already watching our hospitals being overrun,” Osterholm said.

In the U.S., a record 80,698 Covid-19 patients were in the hospital Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. Hospitals in at least 25 states are critically short of health-care workers to care for the influx of coronavirus patients, with some people traveling hundreds of miles for an open hospital bed, STAT News reported.

A handful of states and cities are closing nonessential businesses, limiting public and private gatherings and imposing curfews to try to slow the rapid spread. Some Republican leaders in Iowa, North Dakota and Utah, who have long resisted statewide mask requirements, are now ordering residents to wear face coverings in public.

Many governors and mayors have made it clear, however, that they don’t want to shut down the economy again like many did in March and April at the outset of the outbreak. 

The White House coronavirus task force’s latest weekly report, obtained by NBC News, painted a bleak picture.

“There is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration,” it said.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday warned that the outbreaks in several countries are beginning to overwhelm hospital systems, which will ultimately lead to worse outcomes for severely-ill patients since health-care workers will be forced to ration their time and attention.

“There’s only one way to stop more people from needing to go to the hospital, and that’s to stop more people getting exposed and getting infected,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a press briefing.

Coronavirus fatalities in the U.S. are rising at an alarming rate. The daily U.S. death toll hit a weekly average of 1,335 people on Thursday, a figure last reported in May, according to Hopkins data. Earlier this week, the CDC updated its forecast for Covid-19 deaths to show that “newly reported COVID-19 deaths will likely increase over the next four weeks, with 7,300 to 16,000 new deaths likely to be reported in the week ending December 12, 2020.”

During a White House coronavirus task force press briefing Thursday — the first public appearance from the group led by Vice President Mike Pence since July — Pence and other officials repeatedly assured Americans that the U.S. has never been better equipped to combat the crisis.

Although the vice president acknowledged the rising cases and hospitalizations, he reiterated the positive vaccine developments in recent weeks, saying that the country could have one or more safe and effective vaccines “in a short period of time.”

Those comments come as companies like Pfizer and Moderna report promising preliminary data showing their vaccines to be more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19. Pfizer, which is developing its vaccine with BioNTech, will apply for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner under President Donald Trump, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday that he expects an authorization could come by mid-December. However, vaccine doses will be limited this winter and will “have an impact for some Americans on the tail end” of the latest outbreak, but “it’s really not gonna change the contours.”

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who sits on the task force, also urged Americans on Thursday to take precautions as they await a vaccine.

“Now I’ve used that metaphor that the cavalry is on the way. If you’re fighting a battle, and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting,” Fauci said. “You keep going until the cavalry gets here and then you might even want to continue fighting.”

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner and Will Feuer contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean‘s “Healthy Sail Panel.” 

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