COVID-19 Cases Are Increasing In At Least 30 States
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Coronavirus cases are surging in at least 30 states. They're growing at a rate higher than we have seen since midsummer, and hospitalizations are rising, too. NPR's Allison Aubrey is with us now to track all this. Good morning, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So we have now passed a new milestone - 8 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus. Where are we seeing the biggest increases?
AUBREY: You know, all the key metrics show we're headed in the wrong direction, Rachel. There were more than 70,000 new cases in one day over the weekend, a few days ago. Nationwide, there are about 30% more new cases compared to just a few weeks back. Hot spots include Wisconsin, where a field hospital has opened outside Milwaukee; Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and in the Rocky Mountain states, too - Colorado and Utah, where there's been a dramatic increase in cases and hospitalizations.
MARTIN: It's not just us, though, right? I mean, the rest of the world isn't doing so great either.
AUBREY: That's right. In Europe, Britain and France are also experiencing a surge. Here's former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He was speaking on CBS yesterday.
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SCOTT GOTTLIEB: I think the next three months are going to be very challenging. There's really no backstop against the spread that we're seeing. We're probably two or three weeks behind Europe, and Europe's in a very difficult position right now, too. I think as we enter the winter, we're going to see continued spread. There's 42 states where hospitalizations are rising. There's 45 states where they have expanding epidemics, and there's really no backstop.
AUBREY: You know, a vaccine could provide a backstop. But of course, we know now that even if a vaccine candidate is shown to be safe and effective before the end of this year, it will likely be mid-2021 before it's widely available.
MARTIN: So if we are two or three weeks behind Europe, as Scott Gottlieb said, I mean, we've seen some cities and countries in Europe have to go back on strict lockdowns. Is that something that might happen here?
AUBREY: We could see states or cities bring back more restrictions, sure - limiting capacity in restaurants and bars again, further restrictions on gatherings. Already in Denver, given the rise there, there's now a stricter mask policy in place requiring people to wear masks not only indoors, but in certain outdoor settings. And people are also asked to limit gatherings to no more than five people.
Now, some places with low infection rates throughout the pandemic had loosened restrictions, such as Indiana where there's been a significant jump in cases, a dramatic increase in hospitalizations. And this is happening elsewhere, too. We know that an increase in deaths usually lags behind an increase in hospitalizations. I spoke to physician Aaron Carroll about this at Indiana University.
AARON CARROLL: When hospitalizations go up, it is likely that deaths will follow. But I don't think they will climb as rapidly as what we saw in March for a number of reasons. First, we're testing more than we did then, so we're catching more positives. Secondly, more and more of the cases are coming from younger people now than they did before, and younger people seem to do better.
AUBREY: In addition, it could be people are seeking treatment sooner when they get sick. And doctors and hospitals know more about how to treat COVID patients, too.
MARTIN: So let's talk about those treatments. There's been a lot of discussion about the antiviral drug remdesivir, which was - has been given to really sick COVID patients and - as well as President Trump, who was...
AUBREY: Right, right.
MARTIN: ...Not very sick actually, at least from what we know. What do we know about how effective remdesivir actually is?
AUBREY: Sure. So regarding this antiviral drug remdesivir, a study coordinated by the World Health Organization found that the drug has little or no effect on death rates among hospitalized COVID patients. Other research has shown it can help people recover faster. So while it may be of some benefit, this is yet another data point showing it's not a home run, especially when it comes to preventing deaths.
MARTIN: Yeah. So what about the other therapy that President Trump got, the experimental antibody therapy? Is that becoming available more widely?
AUBREY: Well, President Trump received the monoclonal antibody therapy made by Regeneron. Infectious disease experts tell me that some patients are asking for it given that the president has been touting it on the campaign trail. I spoke to Walid Gellad of the University of Pittsburgh. He explained it's not really available yet; it's not approved by the FDA. But so far, the limited data look promising, he says. The therapy is an infusion, so it infuses COVID patients with antibodies.
WALID GELLAD: It's giving you the antibodies that then fight the infection. And so the theoretical idea, really simply put, is that right at the start of your infection, if you have a huge number of antibodies that fight the infection, then your infection will be cleared faster. And the data right now are really exciting, I would say.
AUBREY: But he says, you know, more data is needed. Science takes time. And there are logistical challenges, too. I mean, this therapy is not a pill. It's got to be infused, so patients would need to go to an infusion center or hospital to get it.
MARTIN: So can we just pivot for a second and talk about voting? I mean, early voting...
MARTIN: ...For the election, it's already happening at some polling places. How do people stay safe when voting, Allison?
AUBREY: You know, election officials have done a whole lot of planning here, Rachel. A group of 10 public health organizations has banded together to remind people that there is no civic task more important than voting, and it can be done relatively safely. Here's Jeanne Ayers. She's a former state health officer in Wisconsin, and she's the senior adviser of the safe voting initiative.
JEANNE AYERS: Knowing your options about how to vote safely will help you exercise the option that fits best for you.
AUBREY: So voting early is a good option. Some places have fewer polling places this election, so there could be lines. Be prepared to wait. Bring water. Dress for the weather. You may be waiting outside. And don't bring your kids or family members who are not voting just to help limit the crowds. Of course, you're going to wear a mask. Also, look for the single points of entry and exit at the polling places that have been set up to minimize close contact. And in some places there may be curbside voting available for people who are at high risk or who are experiencing symptoms.
MARTIN: NPR's Allison Aubrey.
Thanks as always, Allison.
AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.