The US just topped 1,100 coronavirus deaths a day. One state is getting National Guard help, and others keep breaking records

You know Covid-19 is out of control when health officials are so overwhelmed, they can’t notify close contacts who may be infected.

a person holding a sign: Oct. 13, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona; Delta Air Lines has no-touch boarding at Sky Harbor International Airport. Delta Air Lines is promoting their health and safety practices in the COVID-19 air travel era.

© Rob Schumacher/The Republic/USA Today Network
Oct. 13, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona; Delta Air Lines has no-touch boarding at Sky Harbor International Airport. Delta Air Lines is promoting their health and safety practices in the COVID-19 air travel era.

That’s what’s happening in North Dakota, one of 31 states suffering more new Covid-19 cases this past week compared to the previous week.

Contact tracing is crucial to finding possible carriers of coronavirus, so they can quarantine and break the chain of infection.

But a “sharp increase” in new cases has engulfed contact tracers, leading to delays and “a backlog of positive cases that have yet to be assigned to a case investigator,” the North Dakota Department of Health said this week.

“Close contacts will no longer be contacted by public health officials; instead, positive individuals will be instructed to self-notify their close contacts and direct them to the NDDoH website, where landing pages will be created … explaining the recommended and required actions for both positive patients and close contacts.”

The North Dakota National Guard has shifted 50 soldiers from contacting close contacts to notifying people who have tested positive, the state health department said.

‘No safe period of time’ to be maskless with someone outside your bubble

Nationwide, all Americans need to double down on safety measures now that the definition of “close contacts” has expanded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just broadened “close contacts” to include anyone you may have had brief contact with, within 6 feet, during a combined 15 minutes over the course of a day. (Previously, the CDC defined close contacts as anyone you had close encounters with for at least 15 minutes straight.)

“It reiterates the importance of everybody wearing a mask,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Jha and other health experts say there’s nothing magical about 15 minutes, and that the public shouldn’t assume spending less time with people without masks is safe.

“There is no safe period of time to be with somebody who’s not part of your bubble if both of you are not wearing masks,” he said.

“It’s really critical that people wear masks if you’re going to be with somebody for any period of time, even if it’s less than 15 minutes.”

The new CDC guidance came after researchers discovered even brief exposures (less than 15 minutes each) with an infected person nearby can silently spread coronavirus.

“A mask can protect other people from the virus-containing particles exhaled by someone who has COVID-19. As many as half of all people who have COVID-19 don’t show symptoms, so it’s critical to wear a mask because you could be carrying the virus and not know it,” the CDC said.

“While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual

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US Coronavirus: The US topped 1,000 daily Covid-19 deaths and experts worry the worst of the fall surge is yet to come

At least 31 states are now reporting more new Covid-19 cases than the previous week and only one state — Hawaii — is trending in the right direction. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with tens of thousands of patients nationwide and hospital systems already taking a hard hit.

In other words, it’s going to be “a horrible winter,” according to Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Experts say the coming months will be especially challenging for several reasons. The country never got down to a low daily case baseline before entering the colder seasons, meaning new infections will be building on an already rampant spread of the virus. As gatherings move indoors, the virus is more likely to spread.

The surge also comes after many schools and universities reopened, and college towns and campuses all over the country reported outbreaks.
And then, there are the upcoming holidays that are making public health officials nervous. With household gatherings already helping drive the surge of cases, experts worry large celebrations will continue to fuel the spread within American communities. Virtual celebrations are the safest route, infectious disease experts said Wednesday.
Passengers prepare to board a plane at the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona on October 13, 2020

States announce bleak milestones

As the country’s cases move in an upward trajectory, more states reported grim new milestones this week.

Ohio reported more than 2,300 new infections Wednesday, the highest number since the pandemic began, state health officials told CNN.

Utah heart attack victim competes for medical care amid surge in Covid-19 cases
In Wisconsin, the governor announced the first patient was admitted Wednesday to the field hospital that opened in response to a surge of Covid-19 patients.

“We are thankful to have this facility available to Wisconsinites and our hospitals, but also saddened that this is where Wisconsin is at today,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a news release.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday the state added more than 1,000 daily infections and its hospitalizations are at the highest they have been in three months.

And there are alarming patterns coming out of the Dakotas as well.

North Dakota is seeing an average of more than 101 new cases per 100,000 people every day — the highest per capita new case rate of any state so far in the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project. To put that into perspective: that would be like California averaging nearly 40,000 new cases daily.

South Dakota holds the second highest rate of new cases per 100,000 in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

It doesn’t have to be this way

There’s still time to turn things around, officials have said, with the help of basic public health measures touted by experts for months.
Covid-19 vaccine trials won't tell us if the shots save lives, expert notes

Those include masks and social distancing. Updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on close contact emphasize just how critical face coverings are.

The CDC’s new definition of a close contact with a Covid-19 patient includes exposures adding up to a total of 15 minutes spent six feet or closer to an infected

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