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July 17, 2020

As US coronavirus cases surge by 75,000+ in one day, CDC promises new testing guidance

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    A top HHS official on Thursday announced that CDC will issue new guidance on who should be tested for the novel coronavirus, as record spikes in new cases of the virus in America have led to testing delays that are hampering the country's response.

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    US reports 75,000+ new coronavirus cases, shattering previous single-day record

    On Thursday, the United States reported a new record high of more than 75,600 new coronavirus cases in a single day, shattering the previous single-day record of 68,241 new cases, which U.S. officials reported last Friday. Thursday marked the 11th time in the past month that the United States has reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases in a single day.

    As of Friday morning, U.S. officials had reported 3,588,400 total cases of the new coronavirus since the country's epidemic first began—up from 3,512,700 cases reported as of Thursday morning.

    Data from the New York Times shows that Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and 39 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases rise over the past 14 days: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    Meanwhile, the Times' data shows that the average daily numbers of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past two weeks remained mostly stable in Guam and nine states: Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

    Delaware and Maine saw their average daily numbers of newly confirmed cases decrease over the past 14 days, according to the Times' data.

    While growth in America's national coronavirus-related death rate had declined in June, data shows that rate's been rising over the past two weeks, with particularly high increases occurring in states that were among the first to reopen nonessential businesses, lift stay-at-home orders, and relax social distancing and other measures intended to curb the virus' spread, the Times reports. This week, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah all reported record-high daily increases in their numbers of deaths linked to the coronavirus.

    According to the Times' data, Puerto Rico and 22 states saw their average daily numbers of newly reported deaths linked to the coronavirus rise over the past 14 days: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

    Overall, officials as of Friday morning had reported a total of 138,268 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 137,319 deaths reported as of Thursday morning.

    Amid shortages and delays, CDC to issue new guidance on coronavirus testing

    The recent surges in America's number of new coronavirus cases has caused demand for coronavirus testing to outpace the country's capacity to provide and process the tests. Several commercial labs have said demand for the tests in recent weeks has surpassed their ability to both manufacture and process test results, and throughout the country, state and local officials are reporting testing backlogs and limited testing supplies.

    The shortages mean some patients could wait more than a week before they receive their coronavirus test results. For example, Quest Diagnostics on Monday said the lab's average turnaround time for non-priority coronavirus tests is now more than a week.

    Public health experts say those delays are hindering the country's ability to contain the coronavirus' spread, because states don't have accurate coronavirus case counts; people who've contracted the virus may not know, and therefore might not isolate themselves to prevent transmitting the virus; and contact tracers can't step in quickly enough to alert others who may have been exposed to the virus and direct them to self-isolate.

    Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who leads the university's Covid-19 Testing Insights Initiative, said, "You have no idea how many infections you have today. But it also just puts you behind the eight ball. It delays your ability to intervene, and that's the whole point. What's the point of doing a test if someone doesn't get a test result for two weeks?"

    But forthcoming CDC guidance may help to preserve test supplies and alleviate lag times—even though an HHS official said that's not the reason CDC is issuing the new guidance.

    HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, who currently is serving as the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar, on Thursday said CDC is developing new guidance that will recommend that people who've tested positive for the coronavirus do not need to be retested to prove they're no longer infected—a practice Giroir said "is medically unnecessary." According to Giroir, the practice of undergoing two tests "is a remnant of very early on when we had cruise ships and people in quarantine that said the first way to get out of quarantine was to have two negative tests 24 hours apart."

    Giroir said most people who test positive for the virus can end self-isolation after they've gone three consecutive days without symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, as long as it's been at least 10 days since they first began experiencing symptoms. But there are some exceptions to that advice, he said. For instance, Giroir said severely ill Covid-19 patients who are immunodeficient or require intensive care should "consult [their] health care provider[s]" before leaving isolation.

    Giroir said CDC isn't issuing the forthcoming guidance to preserve testing supplies. "There is no tactic about it. It is not a result of shortages," he said, stressing that officials now believe the repeat testing "is unnecessary."

    "If we thought it was necessary to retest people, we would say so," Giroir said.

    However, Giroir indicated the move might help to alleviate the United States' testing crunch. "The great majority of people who are diagnosed and who are sick at home don't need to be re-tested. It's clogging up the system," he said.

    Intelligence agencies say Russian hackers are targeting health care orgs' coronavirus vaccine info

    Separately, the National Security Agency (NSA), Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, and Canada's Communications Security Establishment on Thursday announced that Russian hackers are repeatedly attempting to break into systems at health care organizations working to develop potential coronavirus vaccines.

    The intelligence agencies said they believe the hackers are connected to APT29, a Russian group informally known as Cozy Bear. The group has been linked to Russian intelligence and previously was accused of hacking into the Democratic National Committee's emails during the 2016 presidential election, NPR reports.

    The agencies did not say which organizations have been targeted by the hacker group, whether the group gained access to any information, or what the group might do with any information it retrieved. For now, U.S. and global officials are recommending that hospitals, drugmakers, and researchers guard any sensitive information regarding potential coronavirus vaccines (Farzan et al., Washington Post, 7/17; Abbott/Krouse, Wall Street Journal, 7/16; Lim, Politico, 7/16; Weixel, The Hill, 7/16; Landi, FierceHealthcare, 7/16; Myre, NPR, 7/16; New York Times, 7/17 [1]; New York Times, 7/17 [2]).

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