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Nov. 24, 2020, 3:11 p.m. EST

U.S. is ‘in the middle of the Fight of the Century,’ says former CDC head as cases rise in 45 states, hospitalizations set record

U.S. has averaged 173,147 cases a day in the past week, and more than 85,000 COVID-19 patients are in a hospital

By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


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The U.S. case tally from the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed above 12.48 million on Tuesday, and hospitalizations again reached record levels, with 45 states reporting rising infections.

The U.S. added almost 180,000 new cases on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, and has averaged 173,147 cases a day for the past week. There are now a record of 85,836 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, smashing the record set a day ago.

Nine states are seeing more than twice as many daily cases as they were two weeks ago, according to the New York Times. None of the nine — Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Vermont — is in the Midwest, which has become the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

“From a health standpoint, we’re in the middle of the Fight of the Century,” Tom Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in an op-ed for Fox News.

“COVID won the first couple of rounds and is now surging in much of the country. There are six new cases every second and one death every minute. We hit new records daily, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he wrote, urging Americans to follow the key safety measures — washing hands frequently, socially distancing and wearing face masks in public.

Frieden argued that closures and restrictions on movement are needed but said they should be targeted and focused on the highest-risk activities and locations. He also said the U.S. needs a robust testing, contact-tracing and isolation network to end the “webs of disease transmission.”

‘From a health standpoint, we’re in the middle of the Fight of the Century. COVID won the first couple of rounds and is now surging in much of the country. There are six new cases every second and one death every minute. We hit new records daily, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.’

Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC

Vivek Murthy, former U.S. surgeon general and co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s Coronavirus task force, called on Americans to unite to fight the crisis.

“Pandemics are best fought together,” Murthy said on #TheBubble podcast, which is hosted by Andy Slavitt, who was acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama.

“Moments of crisis like this remind us of old African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,’ ” he said.

There was relief at the news that the General Services Administration has cleared the way to allow Biden’s transition to begin, the first move by the Trump administration acknowledging Biden’s electoral victory three weeks ago today.

See: Biden’s pandemic plan: Restore Obamacare, mandatory masks, paid sick leave and free COVID-19 tests

Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed administrator of the GSA, had come under intense criticism for refusing to cooperate with the incoming Biden administration, weeks after it became apparent that Biden was the winner of the presidential election.

The move will allow Biden and his team to coordinate their pandemic response with current administration officials, and be briefed on vaccine efforts. Last week, Biden warned “more people may die if we don’t coordinate” on the pandemic response.

Biden needs to work on plans for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to start in December if one of the three leading candidates is granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Don’t miss: Monday letter from 160 business leaders pressed GSA administrator Murphy to ascertain Biden win over Trump

See also: ‘Not only is this assignment physically taxing, but it may be emotionally taxing,’ says ad for morgue attendants in Texas

An FDA Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the emergency-use submission made by Pfizer Inc. (NYS:PFE) and German partner BioNTech SE (NAS:BNTX)  last week. The companies have said their candidate is proving to be about 95% effective in early analyses of data from a Phase 3 trial.

The head of the U.S. federal vaccine development program, Moncef Slaoui, said the first immunizations could happen on Dec. 12, if the emergency-use authorization is granted. Slaoui, head of “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal coronavirus vaccine program, said plans are to ship vaccines to states within 24 hours of the anticipated FDA approval.

In the meantime, concerns that Thanksgiving travel will lead to another surge in infections continued on Tuesday, and experts pleaded with their fellow citizens to stay home and not mingle with members of other households. About 3 million Americans were screened at U.S. airports over the weekend, according to the Transportation Security Administration, against the advice of the CDC.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, tweeted his dismay and called on Americans not to become numb to the rising numbers.

He noted that the U.S. is headed for 3,000 deaths a day by year-end — a daily 9/11, in other words, in terms of the loss of human life.

A Minnesota doctor became emotional on CNN as she described a single day of dealing with COVID-19 patients:

Click to Play

As Thanksgiving Nears, States Impose New Covid-19 Restrictions

As the holidays approach and coronavirus cases continue to rise in the U.S., states from the coasts to the Midwest are enforcing new restrictions to get the surge in infections under control. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In other news:

• Less than half of Black and just 66% of Latino people responded to a survey by indicating that they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were offered for free. The survey, which was commissioned by the nonprofit COVID Collaborative, found just 14% of Black people believe a vaccine will be safe, and just 18% believe it will be effective. In the Latin community, 34% said they believe it will be safe and 40% said it would effective. The Black and Latinx communities have been hit hard by the pandemic, suffering disproportionately high case loads and fatalities. “While vaccination is a vital strategy for stopping the virus, a significant majority mistrust the safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine, particularly among Black Americans,” the authors wrote.

• Germany’s 16 federal states will allow gatherings of up to 10 people over the Christmas and the New Year holidays, Reuters reported. The heads of the states are due to discuss the plan with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Germany, which was widely admired for its early success in containing the pandemic, has moved past Peru to become the country with the 12th highest case tally at 952,335, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and at least 14,490 Germans have died.

See also: Boris Johnson announces cautious Christmas easing of COVID lockdown, and Emmanuel Macron prepares to do the same in France

• Sweden has found “serious shortcomings” in how nursing homes have dealt with COVID-19 following thousands of deaths, the Guardian reported. The health- and social-care inspectorate found that none of Sweden’s 21 regions took sufficient responsibility for the treatment of infected nursing-home residents, with a fifth receiving no individual assessment by doctors. Nursing-home residents account for almost half of the 6,400 Swedish fatalities. Sweden’s entire approach to the pandemic has created controversy as it rejected initial lockdowns and restrictions in favor of asking its citizens to behave responsibly. As a result, it has far higher per capita deaths than its Nordic neighbors.

• Travelers to the U.K. will be able to cut their quarantine period by more than half — but only if they pay up to £120 ($160) for a COVID-19 test, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. Under the U.K. government’s new “Test to Release” strategy, which comes into force on Dec. 15, passengers arriving from countries with high infection rates can cut their quarantine from 14 days to five, if they test negative for coronavirus on the fifth day. Passengers who choose that option will need to book a test before travel and pay for it privately from a list of government-approved suppliers, with results usually provided in 24 to 48 hours. The tests are expected to cost between £65 and £120.

See also: Is COVID testing free? Where can I get a rapid test? Your complete guide to coronavirus testing

Latest tallies

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide now stands at 59.5 million, the Johns Hopkins data show, and the death toll is 1.4 million. At least 38 million people have recovered from COVID-19.

The U.S. leads the world by case tally and deaths at 268,665, or about a fifth of the global total. The regular flu season typically causes between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually, according to CDC data.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 169,485 and is third by cases at 6.1 million.

India is second in cases with 9.2 million, and third in deaths at 134,218.

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 101,926 and 10th highest case tally at 1 million.

The U.K has 55,935 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.5 million cases, or seventh highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 92,291 confirmed cases and 4,742 deaths, according to its official numbers.

What are companies saying?

• Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYS:ANF) reported a surprise third-fiscal-quarter profit and sales that fell less than forecast, helped by strong digital sales growth. Net sales fell 5.1% to $819.7 million, above the FactSet consensus of $739.4 million, with digital sales increasing 43% to $382 million. Hollister store sales fell 7% to $476.7 million but beat the FactSet consensus of $668.2 million and Abercrombie store sales slipped 2% to $343 million but was above expectations of $445.2 million. The company said it will close four additional flagship stores by the end of January 2021, in addition to the three previously announced flagship closures in 2020, which will leave it with eight flagship stores at the end of 2021. “We are encouraged by quarter-to-date results, including ongoing strong digital demand, with our customers responding favorably to new product and messaging,” said Chief Executive Fran Horowitz. “However, this is tempered by uncertainty regarding the potential for increased COVID-related store restrictions and our expectation for elevated shipping, handling and freight costs.”

• Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYS:BBY) reported third-quarter profit, revenue and same-store that rose well above expectations, boosted by strong growth in digital sales. Revenue rose 21.4% to $11.85 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $11 billion, as same-store-sales growth improved to 23% from 1.7% to beat expectations of a 13.6% rise. U.S. comparable online sales soared 173.7%, after rising 15% a year ago. The company did not provide financial guidance. “While the demand for the products and services we sell remains at elevated levels as we start the fourth quarter, it is very difficult for us to predict how sustainable these trends will be due to the significant uncertainty related to the various impacts of the pandemic,” said Chief Financial Officer Matt Bilunas.

• Burlington Stores Inc. (NYS:BURL) reported third-quarter profit and sales that fell less than expected, with same-store sales showing “significant improvement” in the last two months of the quarter, but the discount retailer said November started weakly. Total revenue fell 6.4% to $1.67 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $1.55 billion. Same-store sales fell 11%, beating expectations of a 16.3% decline, as a “challenging” August was followed by an improvement to a decline of 4% for the combined September-October period. “Unfortunately, the outlook remains uncertain and unpredictable — in fact the situation across the country with COVID-19 appears to be deteriorating,” said Chief Executive Michael O’Sullivan. “The fourth quarter has gotten off to a weak start with November month-to-date comparable-store sales running down in the low double digits.”

• Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (NYS:DKS) posted stronger-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, buoyed by positive trends in golf, outdoor activities, home fitness and active lifestyles during the pandemic. Sales rose 23% to $2.41 billion, also ahead of the $2.24 billion FactSet consensus. Same-store sales rose 23.2%, compared with a FactSet consensus of up 13%. E-commerce sales rose 95%, and accounted for about 21% of total sales, up from 13% in the year-earlier period. “Overall, the favorable trends in our business have continued into Q4,” Lauren Hobart, president of the company, said in a statement. “These strong sales results have been partially offset by warmer weather that has negatively impacted sales in important cold-weather categories. Taken together, through the first three weeks of Q4, our consolidated comp sales have increased in the high-teens.” The company is not offering guidance.

• Hormel Foods Corp. (NYS:HRL) reported fourth-fiscal-quarter profit that fell shy of expectations and a surprise decline in revenue, weighed upon by weakness in the food-service business amid the pandemic. Sales fell 3.3% to $2.42 billion from $2.5 billion, while the FactSet consensus was for a rise to $2.59 billion. U.S. retail sales rose 7%, and deli sales grew 1%, while food-service sales dropped 23%. Among Hormel’s business segments, grocery-products sales slipped 0.6% to $580.6 million, below the FactSet consensus of $616.4 million; refrigerated-foods sales dropped 4.7% to $1.31 billion, missing expectations of $1.45 billion; and Jennie-O Turkey sales declined 6.3% to $373.5 million, below expectations of $398.3 million. Late Monday, the company said it raised its quarterly dividend to 24.5 cents a share from 23.25 cents.

• J.M. Smucker Co. (NYS:SJM) , whose brands include Folgers coffee, Café Bustelo and Rachael Ray Nutrish, blew past earnings estimates for its second fiscal quarter and raised guidance. Sales rose 4% to $2.034 billion from $1.958 billion, ahead of the $2.102 billion FactSet consensus. Chief Executive Mark Smucker said the company’s U.S. retail consumer foods and retail coffee businesses were boosted by at-home consumption trends during the pandemic. The company is now expecting fiscal 2021 sales to rise 1% to 2%, up from prior guidance of flat to up 1%. It expects adjusted EPS to range from $8.55 to $8.85, versus earlier guidance of $8.20 to $8.60. The FactSet consensus is $8.64.

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