U.S. officials see ‘signs of progress’ in Sun Belt coronavirus outbreaks, though deaths remain high

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure walk at Lake Eola Park, Florida, July 25, 2020.

Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that it is seeing “signs of progress” in Southern states fighting the coronavirus pandemic, though the number of deaths remains high. 

“No one’s declaring victory,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at HHS, told reporters on a conference call. “Very consistent with what we’ve said over the last few weeks, we continue to see signs of progress across the Sun Belt and diffusely throughout the country.”

Giroir said the number of coronavirus tests that come back positive is beginning to level off in some parts of the U.S. and “starting to drop in some places precipitously because of the actions that we’re taking.” He cited “really great compliance with mask wearing, avoiding indoor crowded areas and good hygiene” as the reason for the decline in positive tests. 

He urged Americans to continue to avoid crowded bars, wear masks and to stay at home if sick.

“I’m the testing guy and testing is important,” he said. “The testing will not control an outbreak when you have 70,000 new infections documented today. What will control the outbreak is the personal responsibility that we have been talking about for months.” 

On Wednesday, daily new cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. topped 70,000 for the first time in almost a week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Still, new cases have dropped in recent days, driving the seven-day average of new cases down more than 3% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of the data from Johns Hopkins. 

Roughly half of all new cases are still coming from three states: Florida, Texas and California, which accounted for nearly 34,100 new cases on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins. This week, the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus. 

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the U.S. government is sending Texas hospitals 500 cases of the antiviral drug remdesivir as coronavirus deaths in The Lone Star State hit record highs. The cases of the drug will be enough to treat 3,200 patients, Trump said, as hospitalizations in the state exceed 9,500. 

Last week, Giroir said the rate of deaths from the virus in the United States should begin to fall in the “next couple of weeks” as the rate of new infections begins to drop. He said 90% of the public or more need to wear face coverings in order to curb the spread of the virus.

“Nobody’s letting up their foot from the gas,” he added. “If we throw caution to the wind, go back to the bars, this will all go into reverse.”

Giroir’s prediction differed from forecasts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National and state-level forecasts suggest that the number of new deaths in the U.S. over the next four weeks will likely exceed the number reported over the previous four weeks, according to the CDC.

The data also shows rising death tolls in 25 states and one territory over the same period of time.

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