The Centers for Disease Control has issued new coronavirus guidelines, including requesting “universal face mask use” by Americans, as the US again set a record for the highest daily number of coronavirus deaths.
On Thursday, 2,879 people died from coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, while there were 217,664 new cases, which is also a record.
In another grim marker for the US, the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid exceeded 100,000 for the second day in a row, as the top infectious disease official, Dr Anthony Fauci, warned: “January is going to be terrible.”
Amid the spiraling cases, the CDC issued fresh public health guidance on Friday, in a weekly report that recommends public health strategies.
The CDC, which has previously made similar guidelines to the public, recommended that state or local level agencies should “issue policies or directives mandating universal use of face masks in indoor (non-household) settings”, stronger advice than previously issued.
The CDC also recommended people avoid “non-essential indoor spaces” and postpone travel.
Numerous states have warned that they are running out of intensive care beds, with 100,667 people currently in hospital with Covid.
The escalating figures came as California plans to implement a sweeping stay-at-home order in a desperate attempt to get coronavirus infections under control, and after Joe Biden said he would ask all Americans to wear face masks during his first 100 days in office.
Donald Trump stayed silent on the crisis on Thursday, as the total of number of people who have died reached 276,366.
The president is due to hold a rally in Georgia, which is seeing its highest number of coronavirus cases since August, on Saturday. Two Republican senators face runoff elections in the state in January.
In an interview with Newsweek, Fauci warned that the worst was yet to come in the US.
“I think January is going to be terrible because you’re going to have the Thanksgiving surge super-imposed upon the Christmas surge,” Fauci said. “So it’s entirely conceivable that January could be the worst.”
Fauci, who has accepted Biden’s offer to serve as chief medical adviser, said he expected data to show a further rise in cases and deaths in mid-December – largely attributable to Thanksgiving gatherings.
“If you and I travel and then go home and have family dinners, you’re gonna see infections two to three weeks from there and then a week later you’ll see more hospitalizations and then two weeks later you’ll see more deaths,” Fauci said.
Despite Fauci’s warnings, millions of Americans traveled to some extent over Thanksgiving. Wednesday, the day before the holiday, marked the busiest day for air travel since mid-March, with nearly 1.1 million people clearing airport security.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that while vehicle travel in early November was as much as 20% lower than last year, it surged around the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day there was only about 5% less vehicle travel than the pandemic-free period in 2019.
The commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, told Reuters on Friday that vaccinating 20 million Americans before the new year is realistic.
The FDA is due to hold a public hearing as it considers whether to allow a first vaccine, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, to be administered. The UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week.
“We expect to move quickly,” following the December 10 meeting, Hahn told Reuters. Some officials have predicted a decision could be made within days.
California is fast becoming one of the most severely hit states in the country, and its governor, Gavin Newsom, announced a series of new restrictions on Thursday.
Stricter stay-at-home orders will be implemented in areas in the state where intensive care units are expected to fall below a capacity of 15% – with the vast majority of the state expected to meet that criterion within the next few days.
“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said. “If we don’t act now, our death rate will continue to climb.”
The new stay-at-home order, the most far-reaching since the pandemic began in March, will include restrictions on business and gathering spaces – no salons, no gyms, no indoor worship, no playgrounds. Restaurants will be allowed to offer only takeout or delivery.
Retail that is already limited to 20% of customer capacity will be allowed to remain open, but all non-essential travel is restricted.
The record high number of cases came amid news that the recovery in the US jobs market collapsed in November.
The US added just 245,000 new jobs in November, less than the 638,000 jobs added in October, the 672,000 jobs added in September and the 1.4m jobs added in August. The unemployment rate fell to 6.7%.
Additional reporting by Dominic Rushe