July 2, 2020, 6:22 a.m. EDT

Coronavirus update: U.S. case tally climbs above 2.6 million, and top Republicans now call on Americans to wear face masks

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch

Associated Press
Mitch McConnell, the top Republican lawmaker, dons a face mask.

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 in the U.S. climbed above 2.6 million on Wednesday, a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci said new cases could spike to more than 100,000 a day if the fresh clusters emerging in southern and western states are not brought under control.

Cases have been rising in 35 states in the last 14 days, according to a New York Times tracker, led by California, Texas and Florida. State officials in Texas, California, Florida, Arizona and Kansas, among others, have taken measures in the past few days to encourage their citizens to stop gathering indoors and to observe the measures that health experts say are crucial to containing the spread — hand washing, social distancing and wearing face masks.

The politicization of face masks has dismayed public health experts and put the lives of vulnerable Americans at greater risk. The Republican leadership has now got the message, and are concerned that President Donald Trump has not, as the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, expressed his frustration on Tuesday: “Unfortunately, this simple, lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do.”

Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have spoken out in recent days, and both have urged Americans to wear masks when they are unable to socially distance.

“Put on a mask — it’s not complicated,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams agreed. “If you want the return of college football this year, wear a face covering. If you want a chance at prom next spring, wear a face covering,” Adams said.

Research conducted by the University of Washington published last week found that more than 30,000 deaths could be avoided by October if 95% of Americans wear face masks in public spaces, and states could move ahead with reopening their economies more safely.

“People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50%, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The issue has taken on extra weight as the U.S. heads into the July 4 weekend, a holiday typically marked by barbecues and other gatherings, including fireworks displays.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that indoor dining will remain closed when the city moves into the next phase of reopening next week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make the same announcement for the state later in the day. New York has succeeded in reducing its infection rate after strict lockdown measures that are gradually being lifted.

Click to Play

Fauci Warns Coronavirus Cases Could Reach 100,000 a Day

Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Senate committee Tuesday that coronavirus cases in the U.S. could “go up to 100,000 a day” if people continue to flout advice on social distancing and face masks. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg News

Latest tallies

There are now 10.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and at least 512,331 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 5.4 million people have recovered, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world, with a case tally of 2.64 million and death toll of 127,681.

Brazil is next with 1.4 million cases and 59,594 deaths. Russia is third measured by cases at 653,479, followed by India with 585,481 and the U.K. with 314,991. The U.K. has 43,991 fatalities, the highest in Europe and third highest in the world. China, where the illness was first reported late last year, has 84,813 cases and 4,641 fatalities.

See also: No Americans, for now — EU shuts out travelers from U.S. as it reopens to more than a dozen countries

What’s the latest medical news?

Drug giant Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.92% and partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.13% were actively traded on Wednesday, after the companies said that all 24 participants in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial who received one of two lower doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed neutralizing antibodies, as MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported.

This data were shared by the companies and also published in a preprint study, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed. The study has 45 participants between the ages of 18 and 55 who were randomized and vaccinated, 24 of whom received two rounds of two lower doses of the vaccine candidate. (Twelve participants received one high dose, and nine received two doses of the placebo.)

Read: Why virus stocks are driving market volatility

The antibody findings are important because they indicate that the experimental vaccine can generate antibodies at the same level or higher than those seen in convalescent sera, which is collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. There were no serious adverse events reported in the trial, although some reported pain in the area of the body where the investigational vaccine was administered.

Pfizer said additional data from this trial will inform the selection of a vaccine candidate — the companies are evaluating four COVID-19 vaccine candidates — and dosing level for the Phase 2b/3 study, which could begin this month, with up to 30,000 participants.

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