Today, the United States passed a grim milestone with having recorded 104,004 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day. This is the latest development in the surge that has started spiking in recent weeks. Seven states have set records for hospitalizations, with Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota seeing their seven-day rolling average of new infections increase by more than 45 percent each.
According to the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Tom Frieden, “It’s clear we’re heading into a period where we’re going to see increasing hospitalization and deaths in the U.S. And it worries me how little we’re doing about it. We know by now how fast this virus can move. You have to get ahead of it.” He is worried that state leaders are uncertain about implementing further restrictions due to the pandemic fatigue many people are feeling. Dr. Frieden points out that if the number of cases does continue to rise without any definite action taken, the country will reach the point that nothing will help except another shutdown.
Some places are taking these risks very seriously and have put in place new protocols to follow in hopes of avoiding another shutdown while still maintaining some control over the virus. At least 33 states and numerous cities now require masks to be worn inside public places or under specific circumstances. Many health experts feel that this is the cheapest and easiest way to stop the pandemic. The current CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, commented back in September that face masks might give more protection than a vaccine. Other measures that have been employed are decreasing capacity inside businesses, enacting curfews to encourage people not to be out, and collecting personal information from diners at restaurants for the purpose of contact tracing.
As we continue to grapple with gaining control over the virus, health experts are renewing the call to significantly scale-up our testing capabilities. One method that was hoped to be a game-changer was rapid tests that could provide results in minutes and didn’t need high tech equipment. Unfortunately, new research shows that these tests aren’t reliable, especially when tested doesn’t have symptoms yet or are asymptomatic.
In a study conducted at the University of Arizona, the rapid tests found only 32 percent of positive cases that were identified by the slower but more accurate lab-based PCR test in patients without symptoms. For individuals with symptoms, rapid tests were able to distinguish positive cases 80 percent of the time. The inability of rapid tests to fully detect the same level of cases as the PCR test raises some concerns about using them, especially on those who aren’t experiencing symptoms, and how this could impact the spread of the virus since people who are infected but tested negative with a rapid test can easily spread it to others.