U.S. reports record 88,521 new Covid cases as scientists warn of ‘exponential growth’

Health, Fitness & Food

Certified nursing assistant (CNA) Shameka Johnson, wearing NFL Green Bay Packers apparel, processes a nasal swab at a drive-thru testing site outside the Southside Health Center as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 21, 2020.

Bing Guan | Reuters

The United States reported a record 88,521 new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the pandemic seeps into every area of the country and scientists warn of exponential growth ahead of the holidays.

“We’re starting to find ourselves on a steep slope of the epidemic curve, so I think you’re going to see cases accelerate,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday. The positivity rate, or the percentage of total tests that are positive, is greater than 10% in roughly 15 states, a sign that “there’s more infection out there that we’re not turning over,” he said.

Gottlieb predicted that the U.S. could hit 100,000 new cases Friday or Saturday.

The U.S. is continuing its upward climb on what’s now the pandemic’s third peak, with cases growing by 5% or more in 45 states as of Thursday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Over the last week, the U.S. reported an average of roughly 76,590 new cases every day, the highest seven-day average recorded yet and up more than 25% compared with a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The surge in the U.S. follows a wave of new Covid-19 cases in countries across Europe that have prompted new, stringent lockdown measures on their businesses. Germany on Wednesday announced a “light lockdown,” with bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and theaters to close. France said it would adopt a second nationwide lockdown beginning Friday, ordering people to only leave their home for essential purposes.

“If we get to the levels of some of the European countries like France and Italy, Spain, the U.K. are experiencing, it’s going to really press our health care system across the country,” Gottlieb said. “But right now, I think we’re starting to see cases accelerate.”

The U.S. is conducting record amounts of testing, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. However, more testing cannot account for the rise in cases, health officials say, because the percent of tests coming back positive has increased as well.

“As the nation did after Memorial Day, we are at another critical point in the pandemic response,” Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health who leads the government’s testing effort, said Wednesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

Covid-19 hospitalizations are also on the rise — a sign that the pandemic has taken a turn for the worse in some parts of the country, particularly in the Midwest. As of Thursday, 17 states reached record-high hospitalizations based on a seven-day average, including Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, according to Covid Tracking Project.

“We cannot afford to overwhelm our hospitals, especially those in rural areas where the infrastructure is absent as well as the medical staff needed to operate the surge of ICU,” Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said during an Infectious Disease Society of America conference call on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, at this stage right now, we’re starting to peak rapidly in many states and we’re going toward this exponential growth … and we’re keeping an eye on hospitalizations and we need to be very careful not to overwhelm our hospitals,” Mokdad said.

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the U.S. could surpass 100,000 daily cases in late June as outbreaks were swelling in states across America’s Sun Belt. However, the country was able to keep the outbreak to under 70,000 cases a day until Oct. 22.

“If things do not change… if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations and deaths,” Fauci told “The News with Shepard Smith” on Wednesday. “We are on a very difficult trajectory. We are going in the wrong direction.”

Gottlieb told CNBC “we should try to remain vigilant and be careful these last two or three months as we get through what is going to be the most difficult season.”

— CNBC’s Will Feuer, Nate Rattner, Kevin Stankiewicz and Sam Meredith 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. Pfizer has a manufacturing agreement with Gilead for remdesivir. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean‘s “Healthy Sail Panel.” 

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