COVID-19 'extraordinarily widespread' in new phase of pandemic, Birx says: 6 updates

The U.S. has entered a "new phase" of the pandemic, in which outbreaks are more widespread than in the spring, Deborah Birx, MD, told CNN Aug. 2.

Outbreaks across the U.S. are no longer as concentrated in large cities and have spread to rural regions nationwide, according to Dr. Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator. 

"It is extraordinarily widespread," she told CNN, adding that Americans who live in rural areas "are not immune or protected from this virus."

Dr. Birx also urged individuals living in mixed-generational households to consider wearing a mask at home amid community outbreaks.

Five other updates: 

1. Receiving COVID-19 test results within two to three days is currently not a feasible benchmark, with 75 percent of tests coming back within five days, Adm. Brett Giroir, MD, said July 31, according to The Washington Post. In testimony to Congress, Dr. Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, said the administration hopes to improve test results return timing partially via new technology that allows testing outside of labs. Dr. Giroir said the U.S. can't test its way out of the pandemic, and that testing is not a substitute for handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing. Later in the hearing, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said if test results take multiple days to come back "it in many respects obviates the whole purpose of doing it."

2. While great progress has been made to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, there is "no silver bullet" and "might never be," the head of the World Health Organization said, according to The New York Times. "We all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, told reporters Aug. 3. "For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control — testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all."

3. California has become the first state to record 500,000 infections, reports The Wall Street Journal. As of Aug. 2, the state had more than 512,000 confirmed cases. Florida has the second-highest total of any state with more than 486,000 cases as of Aug. 2, according to data from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University.

4. Much of the progress the Midwest made in controlling the virus this spring is slipping away as new COVID-19 cases increase in the region, reports The New York Times. Officials in Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois are reporting a surge in virus-related hospitalizations and once again implementing social distancing restrictions. Illinois averaged about 800 cases a day at the beginning of July. As of July 30, the state was averaging more than 1,400 cases daily.  

5. Vermont plans to hand out more than 200,000 free masks, which covers about one-third of the state's population, reports local CBS affiliate WCAX. The state implemented a mask mandate Aug. 1, which requires use of face coverings in all indoor and outdoor public spaces when social distancing is not possible. Vermont will distribute masks to towns, community partners and emergency responders to hand out in their communities. The National Guard will also hand them out at food distribution sites.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 4,668,395
Deaths: 154,860
Recovered: 1,468,689

Counts reflect data available as of 8:30 a.m. CDT Aug. 3.

More articles on public health:
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