By Paul Simao and Carl O’Donnell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New U.S. coronavirus cases could more than double to 100,000 per day if the current surge spirals further out of control, the government’s top infectious disease expert warned on Tuesday, although he was “cautiously optimistic” a vaccine would be available early next year.
California, Texas and Arizona have emerged as new epicenters of the pandemic, each reporting record increases in COVID-19 cases, adding to pressure on scores of potential vaccines being rushed into trials.
“Clearly we are not in total control right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate committee. “I am very concerned because it could get very bad.”
Fauci said the daily increase in new cases nationwide, currently around 40,000, could reach 100,000 unless a full nationwide effort was undertaken to tamp down the resurgent virus.
“We can’t just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk,” he said.
Fauci said there was no guarantee of having vaccine to prevent infection soon, but that early data had left scientists “cautiously optimistic” for 2021. “Hopefully there will be doses available by the beginning of next year,” he said.
COVID-19 cases more than doubled in June in at least 10 states, including Texas and Florida, a Reuters tally showed. In parts of Texas and Arizona, hospital intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients are in short supply.
More than 126,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions have lost their jobs, as states and major cities ordered residents to stay home and businesses closed. The economy contracted sharply in the first quarter and is expected to crater in the second.
EU BANS TRAVELERS FROM U.S.
With the virus surging in many U.S. states, the European Union has excluded Americans from its “safe list” of countries from which the bloc will allow non-essential travel beginning on Wednesday.
The fresh rise in cases and hospitalizations has dimmed hopes that the worst of the human and economic pain had passed, leading to renewed criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.
His rival, Democrat Joe Biden, on Tuesday launched a fresh attack on what he called Trump’s “historic mismanagement” of the pandemic, arguing that the president could have saved lives and spared damage to the economy.
“It didn’t have to be this way. Donald Trump failed us,” the 77-year-old former vice president said in a speech in Delaware, where he unveiled an updated plan to tackle the pandemic. That plan includes more testing and the hiring of 100,000 contract tracers to locate anyone who may have been exposed to the virus.
In the past few days California, Texas and Florida have all moved to close recently reopened bars, which public health officials believe are likely one of the larger contributors to the recent spikes.
On Tuesday, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut added California and seven other states to a list of those from which visitors must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Texas and Florida were on the original list announced last week.
South Carolina also has emerged as a hot spot, reporting a record single-day increase of 1,755 cases on Tuesday.
In Texas, where the number of new cases jumped to a one-day record of 6,975 on Tuesday, Houston hospitals said beds were quickly filling up with COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Marc Boom, Houston Methodist Hospital System’s chief executive, told CNN on Tuesday that his 2,400-bed system has seen a “very significant” increase in COVID-19 patients, although the death rate has lowered recently.
Boom said he was worried about July 4 Independence Day celebrations, when Americans traditionally flock to beaches and campgrounds to watch fireworks displays.
“Frankly it scares me,” he said.
(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell, Trevor Hunnicutt, Simon Lewis, Saumya Joseph, Brad Brooks, Susan Heavey, Maria Caspani and Paul Simao; Writing by Nathan Layne and Dan WHitcomb; Editing by Bill Berkrot)