Bill Gates says other nations had better coronavirus responses than US

While the United States has historically led the way when it comes to dealing with diseases such as smallpox, polio and HIV, other countries were faster with a coronavirus response, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said Thursday.

A number of countries — which he did not name — got going a lot more quickly than the United States, said Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds multiple health care initiatives. Countries with previous experience fighting SARS or MERS were the quickest and set up strong models, Gates said in a Time 100 talk.

“If you score the US, our domestic response has been weak. It can improve,” he said. “Our (research and development) response — funding vaccines and therapeutics — has been the best in the world.”

For instance, ramping up testing has been slow, Gates said.

“The US is now starting, you know, to say hey, the testing turnaround can’t be long like this,” he said.

Gates said he does think bars and restaurants should be allowed to have customers inside.

He also suggested countries work hand in hand to fight the virus.

“They also need to get together with other countries,” he said. “Because until we stop the pandemic in the entire world, it’s going to keep coming back.”

More than 4.4 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 151,000 have died.

Vermont announced first coronavirus death in six weeks

Vermont has had its first Covid-19-related death in 43 days, State Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced.

People who might have been affected by the person’s illness will be contacted and given guidance for their health and safety, Levine added.

The state has had 57 Covid-19-related deaths and 1,407 cases, including one new case announced Thursday.

The number of deaths has been rising nationwide as 30 states have seven-day averages that are higher than at this point last week.

But as Vermont’s death toll remained low, Florida’s Thursday count was the third consecutive day of record reports, with 253 deaths — 17% higher than Wednesday’s total.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN’s “New Day” he doesn’t anticipate the trend to change soon, at least not in his area.

“We’re going to see a higher level of deaths for some time, until we start to drop our positivity rate below 10%,” he said. “It was a steep rise to the top and I think it’s going to be a gradual decline. So we’re going to be at this for a while, but we’re not rising anymore.”

The middle of the country is seeing cases spike

The sharp increase in infections that slammed the US Northeast in March and April followed by the South and West in June and July is now making its way inland.

California, Florida, Texas and Arizona have seen sharp increases in coronavirus cases over the past two months and are starting to see their new daily case numbers level off at high daily infection rates. Hospitals are being pushed to their limits, and deaths, which generally trail weeks behind infections, have started to increase.

That same process is now moving to the middle of the country as states including Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are seeing an increase in the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive.

“What inevitably is going to happen is that the states that are not yet in trouble, will likely get into trouble,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday in an interview on MSNBC.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, referred to this process as the virus “moving up.” She called on state and local officials to issue mask mandates in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday.

“We believe if the governors and mayors of every locality right now would mandate masks for their communities and every American would wear a mask, and socially distance, and not congregate in large settings where you can’t socially distance or wear a mask, that we can really get control of this virus and drive down cases, as Arizona has done,” Birx said.

The White House coronavirus task force has warned Midwestern governors that the time to get ahead of the curve is now before the numbers start to skyrocket in their states, Fauci said.

“Before you know it, two to three weeks down the pike, you’re in trouble,” he said.

The dismal economic numbers released Thursday underscore the importance of stopping the virus.

The US economy contracted at a 32.9% annual rate from April through June, its worst drop on record, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Thursday.

Midwest working to get ahead of the curve

Officials in the Midwest should begin preparing for a similar spike in cases, Fauci said.

“What we’re seeing now is what actually took place a couple of weeks ago and what we’re going to see a couple of weeks from now, is what we’re doing now,” he said.

West Virginia is watching coronavirus migrate from the South daily, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said. The state has lost five more people to the virus since Monday, bringing the total to more than 1,100 people.

“It’s just not good. That’s just all there is to it,” Justice said.

As cases rise in Indiana, officials there have decided to conduct a second round of testing on nursing home staff in August to prevent rising numbers from reaching the facilities, Dr. Daniel Rusyniak, chief medical officer of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said Wednesday. Long term care facilities and nursing homes have been the sites of deadly outbreaks in many states.

In Illinois, the High School Association Board of Directors on Wednesday proposed “unprecedented scheduling changes” for sports in the new school year. The sports seasons will be truncated, and fall sports including football, boys’ soccer, and girls’ volleyball will move to the spring, according to a news release, which said the final plan needs approval from the Illinois Department of Health.

On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people and closing bars across the state for indoor service as of July 31, according to a release from the governor’s office.

“After seeing a resurgence in cases connected to social gatherings across the state, we must further limit gatherings for the health of our community and economy,” the release said.

Restart needed to get back on track, experts say

Health experts are urging federal, state and local leaders to come up with new policy actions to get control of the pandemic.

Scholars at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security said in a report that the US needs to restart its response to the virus.

“Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic,” the report says. “It is time to reset.”

The report includes 10 recommendations that include universal mask mandates, federal leadership to improve testing and, in places where rates of transmission are worsening, stay-at-home orders.

Though some have called for another shut down, Fauci said the better option might be to scale back reopenings and move forward more cautiously from there.

“If you’re going to quickly call a pause, a timeout and think maybe you want to backtrack a little, not necessarily all the way back to shutdown, but enough to regain your footing, so that you then proceed to open in a much more cautious fashion,” he said.