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Small gatherings causing new COVID-19 infections, CDC director warns

Small gatherings are increasingly becoming a source of COVID-19 infection around the country, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield warned governors on a call Tuesday.

Redfield's comments, according to audio obtained by CNN, come as dozens of states see increases in new COVID-19 cases.

“In the public square, we're seeing a higher degree of vigilance and mitigation steps in many jurisdictions," Redfield told governors on the call.

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"But what we're seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings," Redfield said. "Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it's really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting."

The U.S. averaged 52,000 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past seven days, according to a New York Times tracker.

The average number of daily new cases is up 21 percent from the average two weeks ago, according to the tracker. 

And in 33 states, the percentage of tests coming back is 5 percent or higher, an indicator of growing cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The largest outbreaks compared to population size are focused in the Midwest and Great Plains states, which had yet to be hit hard by the pandemic before the recent increases.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin are all leading the U.S. in COVID-19 cases per capita. 

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Wisconsin confirmed more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, falling behind only Texas and California.

The CDC’s focus on small gatherings in households comes as experts warn of a winter surge in cases.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: White House seeks to clarify press release claiming pandemic over | Fauci: COVID vaccine likely not available until next year Fauci: COVID-19 vaccine likely not available until next year Kushner told Woodward in April Trump was 'getting the country back from the doctors' MORE, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, has warned the U.S. needs to get its numbers way down before winter. He had hoped the daily average of new cases would be about 10,000 right now. Heading into the winter with tens of thousands of new cases identified per day provides more avenues for the virus to spread as people begin to spend more time indoors and less time outdoors, where the increased ventilation makes it harder for the virus to spread.

Respiratory viruses like the flu also spread easier in colder months, and experts expect COVID-19 to behave the same way.

“I think we’re facing a whole lot of trouble,” Fauci said on CNBC Monday.

“We have a baseline of infections now that vary between 40,000 and 50,000 per day. That’s a bad place to be when you’re going into the cooler weather of the fall and the colder weather of the winter.”