“WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House coronavirus task force is warning of a persistent and broad spread of COVID-19 in the western half of the United States and its members urged aggressive mitigation measures to curb infections.
The area includes a number of battleground states that will play an important role in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election as Republican President Donald Trump seeks a second term against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“We are on a very difficult trajectory. We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, task force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci noted that coronavirus cases are rising in 47 states and patients are overwhelming hospitals across the country.
“If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Fauci said in an interview with CNBC Wednesday night.
The White House coronavirus task force has warned states in the middle and west of the country that aggressive mitigation measures will be necessary, according to weekly state reports seen by CNN.
“We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread,” one state’s report said.
Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress have excoriated Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 228,000 people in the United States. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)
Trump pushed to reopen the U.S. economy, sometimes against the advice of his own government health experts, while many of his supporters in Michigan and elsewhere protested lockdown and mitigation efforts.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows defended the administration’s response on Thursday and stressed that therapeutics and vaccines were on the way.
“We know what doesn’t work. We know that long-term lockdowns and shutting down our economy and making sure that everybody just stays inside their house doesn’t work,” Meadows said on CBS’ “This Morning.”
There are no calls for a nationwide lockdown at this point, but health officials are urging a renewed push to get Americans to redouble mitigation efforts. Meadows did not say the White House would engage in any new initiative on that front.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, claiming for weeks that the country is “rounding the turn” as cases climb.
The task force reports said the cooler weather is a major factor in the increase as friends and families move gatherings indoors. It urged states to intensify efforts to encourage mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding crowds in public spaces.
U.S. hospitalizations are soaring, a metric not affected by the amount of testing done, reaching 45,205 on Wednesday, the highest since Aug. 14.
Thirteen states, mainly in the Midwest and West, reported a record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, according to a Reuters analysis.
Wisconsin, a hotly contested battleground, is one of 34 states where coronavirus hospitalizations are rising by at least 10% compared with the previous week. Michigan, another election battleground state, logged a one-day record of over 3,500 new cases.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said in an interview with CNN on Thursday that the situation in the city is “worst that it’s ever been,” and slammed Republicans in the state legislature for sparking a legal battle with the Democratic governor over emergency orders to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Clearly politics has just permeated this in a way that, I think, has made it very, very difficult for us to deal with this,” he said.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky“