COVID Cases Climb To Record Peaks Ahead of US Presidential Elections Tuesday  
Supporters of President Donald Trump at a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally last week in Phoenix Arizona. Supporters are crowding with no masks.

New COVID-19 cases reached record worldwide peaks in the United States over the weekend,  hitting 98,583 new cases on Friday – as debates over management of the pandemic also fueled intense political duels in the last, heated days of campaigning between US President Donald Trump and his Democratic Party contender, Joseph Biden. 

Hospitalizations were also rising across most of the country, and health experts, including those who have tried to remain out of the political line of fire, were breaking ranks with the increasingly blatant White House disregard for infection trends and infection control protocols, including at President Trump’s blitz of events. . 

“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” said top White House infectious disease expert and advisor, Anthony Fauci in an interview with The Washington Post. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.” 

Trump, speaking at a rally on Sunday morning suggested that he might soon fire Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election…He’s been wrong a lot,” shouted out Trump, before a crowd chanting “Fire Fauci.” 

Fauci hasn’t spoken with Trump in more than a month. And although Trump doesn’t have the power to directly fire Fauci, the president could dramatically restrain his role as a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, observers say.

On Monday, new COVID-19 cases cases dipped slightly again, to 77,398 according to the US Centres for Disease Control – but the seven day US average remained at an all time high of 81,336.  

“We’re at a point where the epidemic is accelerating across the country. We’re right at the beginning of the steep part of the epidemic curve,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNBC.

“You’ll see cases start to accelerate in the coming weeks,” he said, predicting the height of the country’s new surge will be reached around Thanksgiving, adding that: “December’s probably going to be the toughest month.”

This upward trend in cases makes this the pandemic’s third peak in the United States, as cases were growing by an average of 5% or more in 43 states accoring to Johns Hopkins University. There are now more than 9 million reported COVID-19 cases in the United States. There have been more than 230,000 deaths.  

Trump Rallies Accelerated COVID-19 Cases In States Where He Appeared – Says New Study 
US President Donald Trump at recent rally

Researchers at Stanford University estimated that at least 30,000 COVID-19 infections and 700 deaths could be attributed to the 18 campaign rallies that Trump held between June and September; 15 of the events studied took place indoors. Trump has drawn criticism for continuing to hold events with large, tightly packed crowds in states that are currently experiencing outbreaks, such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Many in attendance, including Trump, have no worn masks. 

In the Stanford study, the spread of the virus after each event was compared to parts of the country that didn’t host rallies, illustrating risks of not heeding public health warnings to wear masks and avoid large gatherings to mitigate the risks of COVID-19. 

“The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” authors of the study, including B. Douglas Bernheim, the chair of Stanford’s economics department, reported.

List of Trump rallies included in the Stanford University analysis

Berhneim said he hoped  the study will help inform policymakers the tradeoffs that come with holding large public gatherings during the pandemic. 

 “There’s currently this very important debate going on about the costs and benefits of lockdowns, restrictions and so forth,” Bernheim was quoted as saying. “It’s important that debate be informed by good information.”

The White House has reportedly called this study “flawed” in its attempt to shame Trump supporters. “As the President has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease and this country should be open armed with best practices and freedom of choice to limit the spread of Covid-19,” said spokesperson Judd Deere in a statement made Saturday.

Biden’s campaign has used the study as evidence that Trump hasn’t been taking the pandemic seriously. “He’s even costing hundreds of lives and sparking thousands of cases with super spread rallies that only serve his own ego,” said Biden spokesperson Andrew Gates

US Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has consistently worn a mask and held “socially-distanced” drive-in rallies

Former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public and have held socially distanced events. When two people close to Harris tested positive for coronavirus in October, the senator canceled travel for several days. 

When asked about the differences between Trump and Biden’s campaign approaches, Fauci has said, Biden “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective” and Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective.” That different perspective is “the economy and reopening the country.” 

“It’s not a major stretch,” to say that large unmasked gatherings are likely to spread the virus, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Adalja called the Stanford paper “suggestive” of spread from the events, but not definitive because it was not based on an investigation of actual cases. 

Minnesota public health officials have also blamed four COVID-19 outbreaks and more than 25 cases to Trump rallies held in the state in September and October. 

Rigorous contact tracing from large events such as these could help predict how infectious rallies could be. However, the United States has fallen behind other countries in this regard, due to the lack of funding and coordinated efforts to support contact tracking by the Trump administration. 

“The problem is we’ve not done anything to get real numbers,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translation Institute in La Jolla, California. 

“If we even had one rally where there was definitive tracing, then you could extrapolate. But we’ve had none. Our country has performed as if contact tracing doesn’t exist,” Topol said.

Active cases of COVID-19 around the world and COVID-19 deaths globally (top right) as of 12:24PM EST 2 November 2020.

Meanwhile, Europe surpassed 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as more and more countries applied increasingly stricter lockdown measures. 

Britain closed pubs, restaurants and retail shops, requiring that people stay home unless they are seeking medical care, going grocery shopping, or employed at an essential business. 

“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature,” said Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at a news conference on Saturday. “In this country, alas, as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenarios of our scientific advisers.”

The scientific models “suggest that unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day, a peak of mortality, alas, bigger than the one we saw in April,” warned Johnson. 

Germany entered a ‘light lockdown’ on Monday, restricting gatherings to 10 people, advising against non-essential travel, and closing recreational facilities and restaurants. 

“We are seeing an exponential rise in numbers, with the number of cases doubling in an ever shorter time,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting with state premiers of Germany’s federal states last week. “We know now that we must further restrict person-to-person contacts and thus reduce the risk of becoming infected.” 

“I am very optimistic that we can now, in November, bring the virus under control. I will say it again: we have done it before, I am very sure we will do it again,” said Jens Spahn, German Federal Minister of Health, in an interview with ZDF Heute. 

In Switzerland, Geneva also instituted a partial lockdown, which will go into effect from 7pm on Monday until November 29. Bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses will be closed, gatherings of over 5 people in public spaces will be banned, and public and private events with more than 5 people will be restricted. 

Nationwide, Switzerland has reported 21,926 new cases since Friday, with 497 hospitalizations and 93 deaths, making its new case rate one of the highest in Europe. Geneva is one of the hotspots in Switzerland. “Over the past few days, more than 1,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus on a daily basis (peaking at 1,338 positive cases on October 30),” said the Geneva Cantonal government in a statement released on Sunday. 

“One of the challenges that we’re seeing across North America and Europe is that the increase in cases and the increase in hospital admissions to ICU are happening at the same time,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Health Emergencies technical lead at a Monday press conference.

“Health systems are becoming overwhelmed so that poses challenges for countries that were able to facilitate their workforce around managing the most intense areas,” she added.  

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies

As Europe also faced a rising wave of civil protests over the new government-imposed imitations, governments in Europe face “very limited options” in getting the COVID surge under control, underlined WHO Health Emergencies Executive Director, Mike Ryan.

“We need to push this virus down, we need to take the heat out of this epidemic right now in Europe, and governments have limited options right now in how to do that. Their options are limited,” Ryan said. “People have every right to question when authorities indicate that certain measures need to be taken, but we would prefer that to be a dialogue between governments and communities,” he added, stressing that protests should not, however, put more people at risk of infection. 

Virus Variant Prevalent – But Not Any More Dangerous

Although speculation has been rife about whetehr the surge is also being fueled by a novel SARS-CoV-2 variant,  named 20A.EU1, that has spread widely across Europe in recent months one of the, lead authors of the study on the newly identified variant, said that so far, it does not appear to be any more deadly or infectious. 

“We do not have any evidence that the new variant is more transmissible or has a different clinical outcome,” Dr. Emma Hodcroft of the University of Basel, told Health Policy Watch. “We think the main factors here were the rising cases in Spain, travel over summer, lack of screening/successful quarantine, and failure of countries to contain rising cases.

While there are hundreds of different variants of the new coronavirus circulating in Europe alone, only few of these variants have spread as successfully and become as prevalent as the newly identified 20A.EU1, which likely originated in Spain. 

From July, 20A.EU1 moved with travelers as borders opened across Europe, and it has been identified so far in twelve European countries. Currently, 20A.EU1 accounts for 90% of sequences in the UK, 60% of sequences in Ireland, and between 30-40% of sequences in Switzerland and the Netherlands, making it one of the most prevalent variants in Europe. 

Though this rise in prevalence of 20.EU1 corresponds with the increasing number of cases being observed in Europe this autumn, the authors of this study caution against interpreting the new variant as a cause for the rising numbers. 

“Long-term border closures and severe travel restrictions aren’t feasible or desirable,” explains Hodcroft, “but from the spread of 20A.EU1 it seems clear that the measures in place were often not sufficient to stop onward transmission of introduced variants this summer. When countries have worked hard to get SARS-CoV-2 cases down to low numbers, identifying better ways to ‘open up’ without risking a rise in cases is critical.”

The global COVID-19 death toll surpassed 1.2 million on Monday and global COVID-19 cases reached 46 million. 




Image Credits: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, GPA Photo Archive/Flickr, B. Douglas Bernheim, et al , Mike Beaty/Flickr, Johns Hopkins, R Santos/HP Watch.

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