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CDC: 75 percent of US seeing increases in COVID-19 cases in 'critical phase' of pandemic

CDC: 75 percent of US seeing increases in COVID-19 cases in 'critical phase' of pandemic
© Washington Examiner/Pool

The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing in 75 percent of the country as the U.S. approaches a “critical phase” of the pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said Wednesday.

“Unfortunately we're seeing a distressing trend here in the United States,” Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said at a media briefing at the agency's headquarters in Atlanta.

The U.S. has confirmed more than 8.1 million cases of COVID-19, though the actual number is likely much higher. 

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Experts warned all year the U.S. would likely see a surge in cases in the fall and winter as the cold weather forces people to spend more time indoors.

It appears that surge may be here, with the U.S. confirming nearly 60,000 cases a day, nearing the record high set this summer during the wave in the South. 

“I recognize that we are all getting tired of the impact that COVID-19 has had on our lives. We get tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it's ever been, and I would say it's more important than ever as we move into the fall season,” Butler said, noting that people will likely be gathering over the holidays. 

"We're also seeing cases increase in really all parts of the country, in the Midwest particularly,  likely in part because people are moving indoors with the arrival of cooler temperatures. Another factor is that smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors may be driving infection as well, especially as these gatherings move indoors and adherence to face coverings and social distancing may not be optimal."

CDC Director Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldClyburn: Documents show Trump officials helped suppress coronavirus CDC reports CDC director walks tightrope on pandemic messaging Biologist Bret Weinstein says COVID-19 likely came from a lab MORE also attended the briefing and warned that the U.S. is "approaching a critical phase" in the pandemic.

Until a vaccine is available, Americans should continue following public health recommendations, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing, he said.

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Butler said he is optimistic there will be one or more COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution by the end of the year but added that the supply likely would be limited. The vaccine would initially be reserved for people at highest risk for serious illness, including the elderly. 

The public briefing was the first the CDC had held since August. 

Experts have worried about political interference within the CDC by the Trump administration as the agency presents an outlook of the pandemic that is not in line with the president’s rosier predictions. Trump said recently that the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic, a statement that is demonstrably false as the U.S. approaches a new high in daily COVID-19 cases. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a Trump appointee, defended the CDC’s response Wednesday, arguing the pandemic is too big and damaging to handle alone. 

“I think some of the people who comment are — not having actually lived in or led in this organization during this type of a crisis — failing to appreciate that,” he said. 

The frustration within the CDC among career officials has grown so high that Butler reportedly told co-workers that he was worried people might die “because of what we were forced to do,” referencing the agency’s watered-down guidance on attending worship services during the pandemic.

Asked about Butler’s comments Wednesday at the briefing, Azar demurred.

“I’m not going to talk about my discussions internally here within CDC,” he said.