SATURDAY, Oct. 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The United States broke a bleak record on Friday, logging the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
The tally of over 80,000 new infections eclipses the previous record of 76,533 new cases set on July 17, during a surge in cases across the Sun Belt, the Washington Post reported.
The country could soon be facing its worst stretch of the pandemic, with some hospitals in the West and Midwest already overwhelmed and death counts beginning to rise, the Post reported.
This latest spike in cases is far more widespread than the waves that hit America in the spring and summer. The geographic spread of this latest surge makes it more dangerous, with experts warning it could lead to dire shortages of medical staff and supplies, the Post said. Already, hospitals are reporting shortfalls of basic drugs needed to treat COVID-19 infections.
COVID-19 hospitalizations increased in 38 states over the past week. The number of deaths nationally has crested above 1,000 in recent days, the Post reported.
In July, just four states accounted for more than 40,000 cases: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, according to a Post analysis. On Friday, 11 states accounted for that same lion's share of cases.
"One key way we got through previous waves was by moving health care workers around. That's just not possible when the virus is surging everywhere," Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told the Post. And no one knows how high this wave will crest before peaking, she added.
"We are starting this wave much higher than either of the previous waves," she explained. "And it will simply keep going up until people and officials decide to do something about it."
The Midwest and Rocky Mountains are struggling to contain major outbreaks, while new hot spots are emerging in other parts of the country, The New York Times reported. Kentucky announced more than 1,470 cases on Thursday, the biggest one-day jump ever in that state. And Colorado reported more than 1,300 cases, setting another single-day record, the Times said. In Chicago, a nightly curfew started on Friday, after officials reported an average of 645 new cases a day this past week, the newspaper said.
Things are likely to get worse. The country has not even hit the stretch of holidays and cold weather that is coming. More interactions could mean more transmission during celebrations of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. The winter's cold, dry air will also help the virus stay stable longer, just as people start to spend more time indoors where ventilation may be poor.
Remdesivir gets full FDA approval to treat COVID-19
Remdesivir's full approval Thursday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration comes after the agency granted it emergency use authorization last spring. It is given intravenously to hospitalized patients.
California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. is selling the drug under the brand name Veklury. It cut the time to recovery from COVID-19 by five days -- from 15 days to 10, on average -- in a large study led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the FDA announced in a statement.
"Today's approval is supported by data from multiple clinical trials that the agency has rigorously assessed and represents an important scientific milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic," FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in the Oct. 22 news release.
Veklury is approved for people aged 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and are hospitalized for a COVID-19 infection. For patients younger than 12, the FDA will still allow the drug's use in certain cases under its previous emergency authorization.
The drug works by blocking the ability of the virus to replicate itself. Kidney and liver function tests are required before giving patients remdesivir, and the label warns against using it with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, because that can curb its effectiveness, the Associated Press reported.
"We now have enough knowledge and a growing set of tools to help fight COVID-19," Gilead's chief medical officer, Dr. Merdad Parsey, said in a statement.
Remdesivir is either approved or has temporary authorization in about 50 countries, Parsey noted.
Its price has been controversial, costing between $2,000 and $3,000 for one course of treatment, given that no studies have yet found that it improves survival, according to the AP. Last week, a large study led by the World Health Organization found the drug did not help hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but that study did not include a placebo group and was less rigorous than previous ones that found a benefit, the AP reported.
So far, only steroids such as dexamethasone have been shown to cut the risk of dying of COVID-19, the AP reported. The FDA also has given emergency authorization to using the blood plasma of survivors, and two companies are seeking emergency authorization for experimental antibody drugs.
CDC widens definition of 'close contact' for tracking COVID-19 infections
In a move that widens the pool of people considered at risk for coronavirus infection, U.S. health officials released new guidance this week that redefines who's considered a "close contact" of an infected individual.
The change, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will likely have the biggest impact in group settings where people are in repeated contact with others for brief periods over the course of a day, such as schools and workplaces, the Post reported.
The CDC had previously defined a "close contact" as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. Now, a close contact will be defined as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. State and local health departments rely on this definition to conduct contact tracing, the Post reported.
CDC scientists had been discussing the new guidance for several weeks, said an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Post reported. Then came unsettling evidence in a government report published Wednesday: CDC and Vermont health officials had discovered the virus was contracted by a 20-year-old prison employee who in an eight-hour shift had 22 interactions -- for a total of over 17 minutes -- with individuals who later tested positive for the virus.
Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, called the updated guidance an important change.
"It's easy to accumulate 15 minutes in small increments when you spend all day together -- a few minutes at the water cooler, a few minutes in the elevator, and so on," Rivers told the Post. "I expect this will result in many more people being identified as close contacts."
At the same time, it's not clear whether the multiple brief encounters were the only explanation for how the prison employee became infected, Rivers added. Other possibilities might have included airborne or surface transmission of the virus. She also noted that the new guidance "will be difficult for contact tracing programs to implement, and schools and businesses will have a difficult time operating under this guidance."
COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe
By Saturday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 8.5 million while the death toll neared 224,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Saturday were: California with over 902,000; Texas with more than 898,700; Florida with over 771,700; New York with over 496,500; and Illinois with more than 370,000.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
Several European countries are experiencing case surges as they struggle with another wave of coronavirus infections and hospital beds begin to fill up, the Post reported.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instituted a three-tier lockdown in a bid to slow a startling spike in coronavirus cases across the country. In recent weeks, new coronavirus cases have quadrupled and there are now more COVID-19 patients hospitalized than before the government imposed a lockdown back in March, the Post reported.
Addressing the nation recently, Johnson warned Britons that the country's rise in cases was "flashing ¡ like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet."
Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 7.8 million, a Johns Hopkins tally showed.
Nearly 118,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India's younger and leaner population.
Still, the country's public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil passed 5.3 million cases and had over 156,000 deaths as of Saturday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: The country's coronavirus case count has passed 1.4 million. As of Saturday, the reported death toll in Russia was over 25,600, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 42.3 million on Saturday, with over 1.1 million deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the .