- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2020

Everything old is new again in the global battle against the coronavirus, with cases surging in Europe and the U.S. inching toward another devastating wave, as daily case counts reach levels not seen in months and hospital visits rise along with them.

The Northeast is on guard again as the weather cools, while France imposed a curfew that, after a relatively calm summer, evokes the springtime lockdowns.

“We’re seeing the same movie more than once, and this time it will be more vivid, we think, because we’re entering the wintertime when more people are indoors for long periods of time,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

At the same time, “COVID fatigue” in the U.S. and abroad is increasing the risk.

“They want to put their mask aside and return to the old normal,” Dr. Schaffner said. “Here we have Thanksgiving right around the corner, and families are having these discussions: ‘Are we able to sit around the table?’”

Some experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, say families may need to “bite the bullet and sacrifice” a big gathering on the holidays as troubling signs emerge. The seven-day rolling average of daily reported infections in the U.S. has ticked above 56,000, the highest level in over two months, fueling fears that the country is at a risky baseline of transmission as it enters the season when respiratory diseases thrive.

Some of the reported increases are likely results of wider testing, as President Trump likes to note, though the share of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients has increased in most states. More than 36,000 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, up from about 30,000 at the start of the month.

That is often a sign that deaths will follow, even if progress has been made in treating the disease and shielding the elderly.

“I think it’s essentially inevitable that deaths will go up because cases are going up and some of those will die,” said Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Midwest remains the biggest worry. Last week, Wisconsin opened a field hospital on its state fairgrounds for patients who leave regular hospitals but aren’t well enough to return home. It could eventually accept more than 500 patients.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, is locked in legal battles with state Republicans over his mask mandate and restrictions on gatherings.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, has emphasized the importance of face coverings but resisted a mask mandate because, he says, it is “not a magic bullet.” His state is battling the highest number of cases per capita, at 619 per 100,000, according to a New York Times tracker.

Meanwhile, Democratic governors in Northeastern states that were slammed earlier are worried about another wave and are cracking down.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York’s positive rate is about 1%, but he is worried about “red zones” in New York City, where the rate is closer to 5%. He said some of the restrictions could be tweaked on a block-by-block basis so they are tailored to specific bars, schools or other sites.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, recently told offices to close their indoor break rooms for three months and encourage workers to gather in safer areas, such as outdoors. She also urged people to avoid Halloween parties.

Concerns about the spread of the coronavirus are colliding with a nasty election season.

Mr. Trump, whose reelection bid has been weighed down by the crisis, opposes further restrictions on businesses and society. Instead, he says younger, healthier people need to live their lives while the vulnerable bank on treatment options that have been developed since the onset of the pandemic.

Drugmakers are on course to deliver a vaccine for emergency use as soon as next month, giving the public some hope. Yet Mr. Trump’s push for a deliverable vaccine by Election Day appears to have slipped away. Pfizer said it will be unable to apply for emergency approval until the third week of November to satisfy federal regulators’ demanding safety data.

In the meantime, the president is pointing to flare-ups abroad to remind voters that the U.S. isn’t the only nation struggling to contain the pathogen. Cases and deaths are spiking again in Iran, which struggled early alongside South Korea and Italy. French President Emmanuel Macron last week imposed a nighttime curfew in Paris and other cities to try to slow transmission.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced a three-tiered system that imposes restrictions based on transmission levels. A “high” level would mean people cannot mix with other households indoors.

The European Commission on Monday launched a system that links coronavirus-tracing apps across the European Union. Italy and Austria also announced targeted measures intended to tamp down transmission, especially indoors.

Mr. Trump insists the U.S. is “turning the corner” against COVID-19.

“Normal life will rapidly return,” he said at a rally in Prescott, Arizona. “Next year will be the greatest economic year in the history of our country.”

The number of airline passenger screenings in the U.S. topped 1 million for the first time since March on Sunday, signaling progress in reviving the industry though still far behind the 2.6 million screened on the same day last year.

The case fatality rate in the U.S. is declining: 2.7% of those who test positive for COVID-19 ultimately die, down from more than 3% during a summertime surge in the South and West. The U.S. share of global deaths has dipped below 20% in recent days.

Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden mocked Mr. Trump’s assertion that the U.S. is emerging from the worst. He cited ample warning signs as the death toll approaches 220,000.

“As my grandfather would say, ‘This guy’s gone around the bend if he thinks we’ve turned the corner,’ ” Mr. Biden said in North Carolina. “Turn the corner? Things are getting worse.”

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