Over half of the country is now in the “red zone,” Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House Coronavirus Task Force member told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an exclusive interview, warning that this surge was unlike those in the past.
“When you look at what’s happening now, the rate of rise is dramatically different,” Birx said. “This is faster. It’s broader. And what worries me, it could be longer.”
As of Friday, the US was averaging 74,063 current hospitalizations over the last 7 days — up 19.13% compared to the previous week.
More than 2,000 American deaths were recorded by Johns Hopkins University on Thursday — the highest number since early May. And by December 18, more than 2,300 Americans could be losing their lives daily, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The group now predicts a total of 471,000 American deaths by March 1 — up more than 30,000 since their last projection about a week ago.
But amid the dire warnings are reassurances from experts that Americans merely need to wear masks, social distance and avoid social gatherings for a little while longer.
“It’s not forever. Good vaccines are coming, extraordinarily effective vaccines,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.
“So we’re going to have a much better place, definitely by this time next year, or even earlier — spring or summer,” he said. “Therefore, it’s your obligation to keep yourself and your family alive.”
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said.
Fauci: ‘Double down’ on masks, social distancing until vaccine
“We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we are waiting for that help to come, which will be soon,” Fauci said. “If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”
An EUA is not a full approval, but allows products to be used under particular circumstances before all the evidence is available for approval.
“This is a historic day, a historic day for science and for all of us,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a video shared on Friday.
The FDA said Friday it had scheduled a meeting of its outside advisory panel, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, to discuss the application for an EUA on December 10.
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn acknowledged that “transparency and dialogue are critical for the public to have confidence in Covid-19 vaccines,” and went on to offer assurances that the evaluation would be “open and transparent as possible.”
While the application is “encouraging,” the Infectious Diseases Society of America stressed a transparent review of Pfizer’s data is still needed, including “evidence that the vaccine has been studied in diverse populations.”
Fauci has said he expects the first vaccinations to begin “toward the latter part of December,” and logistic preparations are already underway.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a recorded video statement released Thursday that his state has purchased 5 million needles, 5 million syringes and 5 million alcohol swabs to prepare for the distribution of the vaccine. The governor called recent breakthroughs “the greatest rays of hope that we have seen since the pandemic began.”
Brennan said he expects CVS stores across the country to start offering Covid-19 vaccines by the end of February or the beginning or March.
Health workers ask public to observe Thanksgiving responsibly
“The record-shattering surge underway is resulting in uncontrolled community spread and infection that has already overburdened health systems in some areas and will ultimately consume capacity of our health care system and may reduce the availability of care in many places in our country,” they said.
In the past week, similar messages have been echoed both by leading health experts and state leaders.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned that if residents were planning on a Thanksgiving that looks like previous ones, “You’re making a mistake.” In Utah, where hospitals are overwhelmed and about 45 ICU beds remain vacant, the governor advised that only people from the same household gather for the holiday.
Wearing masks could save lives. According to the IHME team, 65,000 lives could be saved by March 1 if 95% of Americans wore masks.
More curfews, measures to curb the spread
Nonessential work and gatherings must stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the governor said, adding the order will remain in effect for one month.
“But on the other hand, if there is a number of people congregating somewhere, and the police see that … certainly they’re probably going to pull over and say, ‘Hey, it’s beyond the 10 o’clock, you guys need to go home.'”
In Arkansas, the governor announced an 11 p.m. closure for all businesses that are licensed to sell and allow consumption of alcohol on premises.
And there could be more restrictions just over the horizon. In New York City, where public schools transitioned to remote learning on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the city could move into the “orange zone” as soon as the week after Thanksgiving, closing indoor dining and gyms, according to state guidelines.
CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht, Maggie Fox, Jamiel Lynch and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.