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Holidays are usually for gatherings but many get-togethers are complicated or canceled because of COVID-19.

USA TODAY

The U.S. recorded more than 69,000 new cases Friday for the first time since July, andupdated virus projections are bringing the long-feared “winter surge” of COVID-19 cases into focus as health experts warn an increasing number of infections in the U.S. will soon mean more deaths.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest model updates released this week contain spots of good news: 74,000 American lives can still be saved if mask use becomes nearly universal, and increased testing may explain why more young people are testing positive.

But the influential model still projects daily U.S. deaths will surpass 2,000 in January, even with states reimposing stricter orders.

The guidance also called out North Dakota specifically for its alarming death rate, following a well-documented lax approach to health mandates in the state: “North Dakota presently has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world,” a briefing on the model says.

The state joins South Dakota as having some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation. Rural counties across Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana sit among the top in the nation for new cases per capita over the last two weeks,

Some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 8.1 million cases and 219,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. There have been more than 39.6 million confirmed cases around the world and nearly 1.1 million deaths. 

📰 What we’re reading: Italy, once an epicenter for COVID-19, is worlds apart from the United States in its handling of the pandemic. “Italians have always looked up to the United States but what is happening now makes us watch in disbelief,” says one Italian professor.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

Cases again surge at Notre Dame after parties

The University of Notre Dame announced a return to stricter rules on gatherings after cases at the school surged in recent days. Officials say off-campus tailgates and watch parties following a recent football home game are part of the reason for the increase in cases.

In a letter posted Thursday to the university’s COVID-19 website, Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding and Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations Mike Seamon said the number of close contacts for each positive case had “increased substantially, with as many as 10 to 15 close contacts needing to quarantine.” At one time, the number of close contacts was only five per positive test.

The increase, he said, “would indicate they’re gathering in groups.”

In August, the university temporarily pivoted to online learning to stem a rash of cases.

— Andrew S. Hughes, South Bend Tribune

Man upset with mask mandate threatened Wichita mayor, police say

A retired firefighter