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Coronavirus Cases Plateauing in Sun Belt, Spiking in the Midwest

WEDNESDAY, July 29, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Coronavirus outbreaks throughout the Sun Belt started to show signs of leveling off on Tuesday, but the nation's top infectious disease expert warned that COVID-19 cases are now on the rise in the Midwest.

"We just can't afford, yet again, another surge," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday, as the country reported more than 1,000 coronavirus fatalities for the second day in a row, the Washington Post reported.

Florida, Arkansas, Oregon and Montana saw their highest single-day death tolls to date on Tuesday, the Post reported.

However, the number of cases nationwide appears to have leveled off to a seven-day moving average of around 66,000 new cases daily, the Post reported. A slight decline in new cases registered Tuesday followed five weeks of steadily rising numbers.

On the vaccine front, the final phase of testing for two potential COVID-19 vaccines was launched on Monday.

In one trial, the first of 30,000 volunteers were either given a vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the U.S. National Institutes of Health or a placebo shot, the Post reported.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also announced Monday that it was starting a 30,000-person final phase vaccine trial, to be conducted at 120 sites globally.

Fauci predicted that researchers would probably be able to tell whether the Moderna vaccine was effective by November or December, although he added that it was a "distinct possibility" an answer could come sooner. Pfizer officials have said the company expects to be able to seek regulatory authorization or approval for its vaccine by October, the Post reported.

Both vaccines require two doses, spaced several weeks apart. Then researchers will have to wait to see whether people get infected or sick with COVID-19. A clear signal of success or failure will depend on how fast the trials recruit participants and how long it takes for enough people to become infected to observe whether there is an effect, the Post reported.

To show the Moderna vaccine is 60 percent effective, Fauci said, there would need to be about 150 infections among the 30,000 participants.

Testing delays

Still, laboratories across the country are being crushed by the surge of COVID-19 tests, the Associated Press reported.

The bottlenecks are creating problems for workers kept off the job while awaiting results, nursing homes struggling to keep the virus out, and for the labs themselves, the wire service said. Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, fueling fears that people without symptoms could be spreading the virus if they don't isolate while they wait.

"There's been this obsession with, 'How many tests are we doing per day?'" former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told the AP. "The question is how many tests are being done with results coming back within a day, where the individual tested is promptly isolated and their contacts are promptly warned."

Frieden and other public health experts have called on states to publicly report testing turnaround times, calling it an essential metric to measure progress against the virus.

By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 4.3 million as the death toll neared 150,000, according to a New York Times tally.

According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday were: California with nearly 475,000; Florida with nearly 442,000; New York with nearly 417,600, Texas with over 412,700 and New Jersey with over 182,000.

Nations grapple with pandemic

Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that Hong Kong faces a "large-scale community outbreak" and that the city's healthcare system could crumble under pressure if cases continue to climb, the Post reported.

Lam made the remarks late Tuesday as Hong Kong introduced new lockdown measures -- the strictest restrictions on residents since the pandemic began. Under the new rules, group gatherings are banned along with restaurant dining, and face masks are now mandatory.

As Lam urged people to abide by the health and safety advice to stay home and practice social distancing regulations, she said the looming outbreak could "lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly."

On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported 118 new coronavirus cases, with at least 113 of those locally transmitted infections.

Meanwhile, Vietnam's coronavirus outbreak has spread to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the country's two largest cities, Reuters reported. New cases have also been detected in Vietnam's central highlands, known as the "coffee belt."

All were reportedly linked to people traveling from Danang, which began evacuating tourists over the weekend and is now in a state of lockdown. In total, 30 cases have been identified outside the city, according to Vietnam Television, Reuters reported.

Vietnam had gone more than three months without reporting any locally transmitted coronavirus cases. But a 57-year-old man in Danang, a popular beach resort, tested positive on Saturday. The country has yet to record a single death linked to COVID-19, Reuters reported.

Things continue to worsen in India. On Wednesday, the country passed 1.5 million infections and over 34,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. The surge comes weeks after a national lockdown was lifted, and it's prompted some parts of the country to revert back to stricter social distancing measures. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.

Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 2.5 million confirmed infections by Wednesday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.

Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Wednesday, that country reported the world's fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 827,400, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 16.7 million on Wednesday, with nearly 661,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: The New York Times; Washington Post; Associated Press; Reuters

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