The US recorded 166,555 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, down from more than 184,000 on Friday but still its second-highest daily total and a 12th day in a row above 100,000.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the overall US caseload is now nearly 10.9m and more than 245,000 have died. On Saturday, 1,266 people died. Hospitalisations are rising.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, said it was “possible” the country would see 200,000 deaths in the next four months, which would put the toll of the pandemic above 400,000 in slightly more than a year.
In Washington DC on Saturday, thousands attended the “Million Maga March”, a gathering of supporters of Donald Trump, who lost the presidential election to Joe Biden but has refused to concede. The president has heralded news of an imminent Pfizer vaccine but he and members of his family, top aides and senior Republicans have all tested positive for Covid-19.
At campaign and White House events, Trump has refused to enforce mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. On Saturday, local media reported that around the White House, where Trump waved to supporters from his motorcade, “it seemed a majority of the protesters gathered were not wearing masks”. Washington DC has a mask mandate.
Trump has said his administration will not implement any further social lockdowns. He has also refused to participate in the Biden transition, meaning information on Covid-19 is not being shared with the president-elect. Biden, who has appointed his own Covid-19 advisory group, supports a national mask mandate.
Across the country, particularly in the hard-hit midwest, states are implementing tighter controls. On Saturday, California, Minnesota and Maryland were among states reporting rapidly rising case numbers and healthcare systems under serious strain. Oregon and New Mexico implemented new social restrictions, while North Dakota introduced a mask mandate and Arkansas established a Covid taskforce. From Monday, the Navajo Nation will enter a three-week stay-at-home advisory period.
In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee ordered sweeping restrictions and shutdowns starting at 11.59pm on Monday. Restaurants and bars were ordered to stop indoor service and keep outdoor service to groups of five or less. Gyms, movie theaters, museums and bowling alleys were ordered closed, the Seattle Times reported.
Indoor gatherings involving multiple households are barred, unless those present have quarantined for two weeks. Alternatively, participants can quarantine for one week and test negative within two days of the get-together. Inslee’s mandates will be enacted for a minimum of four weeks.
“Today, Sunday 15 November 2020, is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history,” Inslee said. “A pandemic is raging. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-Covid conditions.”
On CNN’s State of the Union, Fauci was asked what the Trump administration should do other than advising the wearing of masks, hand-washing and social distancing.
“Well, what we’ve got to do is make what you just said uniform, not spotty,” he said. “Everybody’s got to do it. There’s no excuse not to do that right now, because we know that can turn things around. I mean, that’s the tool we have. We have good news with regard to the vaccines, so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Help is coming.
“It’s going to be a gradual accrual of more normality as the weeks and the months go by, as we get well into 2021,” he added.
Asked about his recent statement that a national lockdown is not necessary, he said: “We’re not going to get a national lockdown. I think that’s very clear, but I think what we’re going to start seeing in the local levels, be they governors or mayors or people at the local level … very surgical type of restrictions, which are the functional equivalent of a local lockdown.
“We’re not going to have a national lockdown. But if things really get bad and you put your foot on the pedal and yet still you have the surge, you may need to take the extra step that you’re talking about.”
Asked about Trump’s refusal to participate in the transition, Fauci said it was “almost like passing a baton in a race, you don’t want to stop and then give it to somebody, you want to just essentially keep going and that’s what transition is … Of course it would be better if we could start working with them.”
Leaders of the Trump taskforce have promised swift distribution of the Pfizer vaccine to the vulnerable and frontline health workers, once emergency use authorisation is obtained from the US Food and Drug Administration, expected by the end of November.
But Trump’s resistance to cooperation is not limited to Biden. On Friday, he said the federal government would not deliver the vaccine to New York, because its governor, Andrew Cuomo, “doesn’t trust where the vaccine is coming from”.
Trump and Cuomo have fought repeatedly. Cuomo has said federal distribution plans rely too heavily on hospitals, clinics and drug stores, a problem for communities which do not have easy access to the healthcare system. On Sunday, he said he would sue if the administration made it difficult for minorities to get vaccinations.
“If the Trump administration does not change this plan and does not provide an equitable vaccine process, we will enforce our legal rights,” Cuomo was reported as saying. “We will bring legal action to protect New Yorkers.”
From Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine told CNN coronavirus “fatigue” was a serious problem. Speaking to CNN on Saturday, Dr James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, said he was “terrified” about the imminent holiday season.
“We’re going to see an unprecedented surge of cases following Thanksgiving this year, and if people don’t learn from Thanksgiving, we’re going to see it after Christmas as well,” Phillips said.