US facing challenge of halting Covid-19 spread while awaiting vaccine

By Laura Barros

Washington, Dec 6 (efe-epa).- The United States is facing the challenge of halting the skyrocketing number of Covid-19 cases – which on Sunday exceeded 14.6 million since the first cases were noticed in January – while it is waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to approve one or more of the recently developed vaccines against the often-deadly virus.

After three consecutive daily records for numbers of newly confirmed cases, authorities are insisting that using facemasks, social distancing and hand-washing are the best ways to limit the spread of the disease.

The coordinator of the White House’s Covid-19 Task Force, Dr. Deborah Birx, told NBC News it was “frustrating” that many governors of states where cases are surging are not implementing policies to curtail the spread of the virus, saying: “This is not just the worse public health event. This is the worst event that this country will face, not just from a public health side. Yet we know what behaviors spread the virus and we know how to change those behaviors to stop spreading the virus.”

She said that in her meetings with the public there are still those who are “parroting back that masks don’t work, parroting back that we should work towards herd immunity, parroting back that gatherings don’t result in super-spreading events,” adding that “I think our job is to constantly say those are myths, they are wrong, and you can see the evidence (for that).”

Along the same lines, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, said that the Donald Trump administration was worried about people’s behavior over the recent Thanksgiving holiday and also during the upcoming Christmas holiday season. He told ABC News that “We want to make sure everyone’s loved ones are there next Christmas, especially when we have so much hope of vaccine,” thus seeming to suggest that people should forego holiday gatherings this year.

The country, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), is in a “high transmission” phase with the drop in temperatures, and experts have warned that the full impact of the relatively massive Thanksgiving travel indulged in by millions of Americans is still is not known.

A number of health experts had said that they were expecting a wave of coronavirus infections, along with the concomitant deaths, after the Thanksgiving holidays with it taking up to two weeks for people who became infected at family gatherings or on air flights to develop symptoms and for those symptoms to progress to the point where some of those people would require hospitalization.

CNN reported that the country added more than a million new coronavirus cases during the first five days of December, evidently the start of this wave.

In addition, citing information from the COVID Tracking project, CNN said that more than 100,000 patients were hospitalized over the past four days around the country, the largest number of hospitalizations in a similar span since the pandemic began.

Other media outlets reported that the coronavirus had become the No. 1 cause of death in the US this past week.

According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that some 12,000 people died in the US over the past week from Covid-19.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor for the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, designed to accelerate medical solutions to the pandemic, said that finally the light was visible at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines that have been developed, but in the meantime Americans should continue to use facial coverings and other protective measures.

He made his remarks as the country was waiting for next Thursday’s meeting called by the FDA to evaluate and potentially approve the vaccine developed by the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm and its German partner BioNTech.

One week after that, on Dec. 17, the FDA will hold another meeting to weigh providing emergency authorization in this country for the vaccine manufactured by Moderna.

Slaoui told CBS News that if the vaccine is approved on Dec. 10 or 11, distribution of it will begin immediately, adding that it should take about 24 hours for the first doses to arrive at assorted vaccination sites around the country and another 12 hours for local health authorities to begin immunizing people who are in high-risk groups.

He said that a positive impact from the vaccine could begin to be seen in lowering the numbers of cases and deaths probably in January and February, although the bulk of the population would not see their lives begin returning to “normal” until April or May.

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