The number of U.S. coronavirus cases neared 4 million on Wednesday as experts warned of testing bottlenecks in laboratories across the country threatening efforts to test, trace and contain the virus' spread.
Worldwide, the count of people infected with the coronavirus passed a staggering 15 million people, with some 618,000 killed by the pandemic.
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:
US Labs Buckle Amid Testing Surge
Laboratories across the U.S. are buckling under a surge of coronavirus tests, creating long processing delays that experts say are actually undercutting the pandemic response.
With the U.S. tally of infections at 3.9 million Wednesday and new cases surging, 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, dealing with a crushing workload.
Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, exacerbating fears that asymptomatic people 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” said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “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.
Guidelines issued by the CDC recommend that states lifting virus restrictions have testing turnaround time under four days. The agency is expected to soon issue new guidelines recommending against retesting COVID-19 patients to confirm they’ve recovered.
“It’s clogging up the system,” Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant health secretary, told reporters last week.
DC Mayor Orders Mandatory Masks as Infections Rise Again
With coronavirus cases rising, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an executive order Wednesday making face masks mandatory outside homes — an unprecedented step in the nation's capital.
Bowser said the order would include “enforcement language” detailing possible fines for violations.
After saying they had successfully blunted the infection curve in the city earlier this summer, health officials say the infection numbers have slowly crept upward, reaching triple digits on Wednesday for the first time in weeks.
Limited exceptions to the order, according to material distributed by Bowser's office, include children under age 3, people “actively eating or drinking” and people “vigorously exercising outdoors” while not close to anyone else.
The order does not apply to “any employees of the federal government while they are on duty." That description would appear to exclude President Donald Trump and members of Congress from the mask requirement while working.
D.C. officials said the mark requirement can't be enforced on federal property.
Trump Cites Protests, Bars, Travel in Virus Rise
President Donald Trump is casting wide blame for a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, pointing to racial justice protests, travelers from Mexico and young bar-goers.
Holding his second briefing on the virus in as many days after a three-month hiatus, Trump sought on Wednesday to explain the rise in confirmed cases across the nation’s South, Southwest and West.
Trump says cases among young Americans first started to rise “shortly after demonstrations.” He says the protests following the death of George Floyd “presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation efforts nationwide.”
He also says a “substantial increase in travel” around Memorial Day and summer vacations was also a driver of new cases.
Further, he says, “Young people closely congregating at bars and probably other places, maybe beaches,” likely also led to new cases.
Trump also blames travelers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for spikes, saying cases in Mexico are surging.
Coronavirus a 'Category 5 Emergency' for Florida's Older Population
While young adults have been the recent focus of concerns about growing COVID-19 cases across the country, a senior living advocacy group is sounding the alarm on the rising number of coronavirus infections among residents at long-term care facilities, which has more than doubled in last month, NBC News reports.
"If the coronavirus in Florida were a hurricane, its intensity in two weeks has reached Category 5 status," LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer said during a video conference Monday.
Florida is particularly susceptible to the virus as older Americans tend to have underlying conditions that exacerbate its impact. One in five Floridians is 65 or older, according to a new LeadingAge Florida situation report on the virus.
According to data released by the state's Department of Health, cases among residents at assisted facilities reached 4,798, a 139 percent increase since June 22. Cases among staff members rose 82 percent to 7,084 in the same time.
California Surpasses NY State in Confirmed Cases
California’s confirmed coronavirus cases have topped 409,000, surpassing New York for most in the nation.
John’s Hopkins University data showed Wednesday that California now has about 1,200 more cases than New York.
However, New York's 72,302 deaths are by far the highest total in the country and nine times more than California's tally, and its rate of confirmed infections of about 2,100 per 100,000 people is twice California's rate.
California is by far the most populous U.S. state, at nearly 40 million people, while New York has about 19.5 million.
“We’re doing all we can to make sure that we control the rate of spread, despite crossing 400,000 cases in California,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday. “In the end I really expect and hope California is going to be the state that adapted the most, learned the most and prepared the best.”
Should Your State Reopen?
For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.
As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. Critics call the measures vague and ultimately because they aren’t binding, some states are choosing to reopen whether they meet the criteria or not.
Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC
US Secures 100 Million Doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine for $2B
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday that the U.S. has signed a contract with Pfizer for delivery in December of the first 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine the pharmaceutical company is working to develop.
The U.S. could buy another 500 million doses under the agreement, Azar said.
“Now those would, of course, have to be safe and effective” and be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Azar said during an appearance on Fox News.
Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE announced separately that the agreement is with HHS and the Defense Department for a vaccine candidate the companies are developing jointly. The U.S. will pay $1.95 billion upon receipt of the first 100 million doses, following FDA authorization or approval.
Azar said the contract with Pfizer and BioNTech brings to five the number of potential coronavirus vaccines that are under development.
The agreement is part of President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, under which multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being developed simultaneously. The program aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021, according to HHS.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Governor Says COVID Has Reached 'Plateau' in Florida, But New Cases Remain High
Dr. David Moorhead, of Florida Hospital in Orlando, said on Tuesday that his hospital has reached a plateau in the coronavirus battle, NBC Miami reported.
"I think you have seen a plateau in some places, like Central Florida, which is a good thing," Gov. Ron DeSantis chimed in.
No doubt, the increase in new cases has been leveling off in recent days, but fewer tests were reported and the percent of them coming back positive the last two days climbed to a two-week high of 17.8%.
And hospitalizations continue to climb at a record pace. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 9,520 patients in Florida hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, according to the Agency for Healthcare Administration.
In South Florida, concerned doctors are facing heavier caseloads.
"The number of individuals who are sick enough to require an ICU bed has steadily gone up," said Dr. Ailleen Marty, an epidemiologist at Florida International University. "The fact that not just Jackson, but Baptist and several other health systems in our community are begging for more staff -- and have already obtained additional staff and need more -- is the true indicator of how desperate the situation is."
How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart
This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.
Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC
Dallas County Below 1,000 New Cases for First Time in 18 Days
For the first time in 18 days, the Dallas County Health Department reported fewer than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, NBC DFW reported.
On Tuesday, the county saw 734 new cases and 11 additional deaths, bringing the total number of positive cases in the county to 43,026.
There have been 537 deaths in Dallas County connected to the virus, which is now the third leading cause of death in the county behind heart disease and cancers.