Empty tables and chairs stand outside a restaurant on Jefferson Street at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
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A national lockdown of businesses and schools is a “measure of last resort,” even as cases continue to surge to record-highs across the U.S., a top coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden said on Sunday.
Covid-19 cases were growing by 5% or more in 47 states as of Saturday, based on a weekly average, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. reported 166,555 new cases on Saturday, the second-highest daily number of new cases so far.
The U.S. is now reporting a weekly average of 145,401 cases every day, a more than 33% increase compared with a week ago and a record high average, according to Hopkins. The nation surpassed more than 11 million reported Covid-19 cases on Sunday, adding an additional 1 million cases in less than a week.
More than 69,400 people were hospitalized with Covid-19, the highest number of patients with the virus at any point during the pandemic, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic.
Top coronavirus advisors for Biden, who named a panel of scientists on Monday to help navigate his Covid-19 response, have given differing stances on whether the U.S. should adopt lockdown measures to control the recent spike in cases.
“That’s a measure of last resort,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general tapped to help lead the group, told “Fox News Sunday,” adding that any lockdown at this stage of the pandemic would look different than the sweeping closures which states enacted in the spring to suppress the virus.
“In the spring we didn’t know a lot about Covid, we responded, in a sense, with an on-off switch. We just shut things down because we didn’t know exactly how this was spreading and where it was spreading, but we learned a lot more since then,” Murthy said.
In this screenshot from the DNCC’s livestream of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy addresses the virtual convention on August 20, 2020.
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Murthy’s comments come after another Covid-19 advisor to Biden, Dr. Michael Osterholm, who serves as director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Yahoo Finance in an interview Wednesday that shuttering businesses for four to six weeks while paying people for lost wages could help suppress cases and hospitalizations to a manageable level.
Osterholm later clarified his comments in an interview with NBC News, saying, “It was not a recommendation. I have never made this recommendation to Biden’s group. We’ve never talked about it.”
A Biden transition official told NBC News that a shutdown “is not in line with the president-elect’s thinking.”
“We are not in support of a nationwide lockdown,” Dr. Atul Gawande, a professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard and a Biden advisor, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “You can have targeted measures building on mask wearing to include widespread testing, can include dialing up and down capacity restrictions, and those measures need to happen on a more localized basis.”
Both Gawande and Murthy pointed to New York’s “micro-cluster” strategy as an example. The state has imposed tougher restrictions on specific areas depending on the level of coronavirus spread. The hardest-hit red zones would be forced to close nonessential businesses and schools for in-person learning while other surrounding areas can remain open with modifications.
“On a zip code by zip code basis, you can deploy different restrictions in order to get the virus under control and it’s quite effective. We do not need to go into a nationwide, shelter-in-place shutdown,” Gawande said.
Some states ‘hit reset’
More states are beginning to ease back into coronavirus restrictions and institute statewide mask mandates as coronavirus cases continue to soar ahead of the holidays. Many governors have pointed to “Covid fatigue,” or the reduced compliance with recommended public health guidance, as one reason for the swelling infections.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a Twitter post that the state will “hit reset” and begin a statewide stay-at-home order on Monday. Residents are instructed to stay at home unless venturing out for essential services.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced sweeping new restrictions limiting restaurants to takeout service only; closing gyms, fitness centers and indoor and outdoor event centers; and limiting attendance at places of worship, among other limitations.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican who has resisted instituting a mask mandate, ordered residents on Friday to begin covering their face when in public. On Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine reimposed a statewide mask mandate with tougher enforcement measures on businesses.
“If we wear a mask, we are keeping our kids in school and we are protecting our elderly and we are protecting our hospitals,” DeWine told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We can see the end of this, we just have to tough it out… for a few more months and do what we need to do so we can get through this.”
A handful of cities have started to carry out their own restrictions. Chicago on Thursday said it was issuing the 30-day stay-at-home advisory, asking people to refrain from traveling, having guests in their home or leaving for nonessential business “in response to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the city.”
In New York City, schools will remain open for in-person learning on Monday, though Mayor Bill de Blasio has instructed parents to prepare their students to move to remote-learning once the citywide positivity rate, or the percentage of positive tests, hits an average of 3%.
De Blasio said in a Tweet on Sunday that the city’s positivity rate stands at 2.57%.
“Thankfully, schools will remain open on Monday, but we have to keep fighting back with everything we’ve got,” he said.