Health and Science

Average daily new coronavirus cases in U.S. hit all-time high, Gottlieb warns of 'exponential spread'

Key Points
  • The average number of new daily cases of coronavirus in the United States is at a record.
  • "We are likely to see a very dense epidemic," former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday.
  • As daily new cases skyrocket, hospitalizations are rising, too, and deaths, which lag furthest behind those other indicators, are beginning to tick up.
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The United States is seeing a big spike in coronavirus cases

The average number of new daily cases of coronavirus in the United States is at a record — stressing local hospital systems and forcing new curfews and other restrictions in some parts of the country.

With fall holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving approaching, the U.S. has now established its third peak of daily new cases with no signs of letting up.

Over the past seven days, the country reported an average of about 68,767 new cases every day, the highest seven-day average recorded yet, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. The seven-day average is up more than 22% compared with a week ago, according to CNBC's analysis.

"We are likely to see a very dense epidemic," former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday. "I think we are right now at the cusp of what is going to be exponential spread in parts of the country."

The U.S. is also testing more people than ever, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. However, more testing cannot account for the rise in cases, health officials say, because the percent of tests coming back positive has increased as well. About 6.2% of tests were positive on Sunday based on a seven-day average, according to Hopkins, up from 5.2% a week earlier.

The U.S. reported an all-time high single-day spike in cases on Friday, when the country reported 83,757 new cases, according to Hopkins data. Health officials have warned for months that cases would likely rise as parts of the country entered the fall and winter. That's largely because people are spending more time indoors, where the virus can spread more easily. Epidemiologists also say the virus may be able to spread more easily in colder, drier air.

More than 20 states reported record-high numbers of average daily new cases, and cases are rising by 5% or more in 40 states, according to CNBC's analysis. Many of the states with the fastest growing outbreaks are those in the Midwest and West, which did not report many cases of the virus earlier in the pandemic. Adjusted for population, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Montana and Idaho are reporting more average daily new cases than anywhere else in the country.

"We have one more cycle to get through with this. I know people are exhausted. It's been very hard on families and on individuals, on businesses especially, but we really have two or three months of the acute phase of this pandemic to get through," Gottlieb said Monday. "This is going to be the hardest phase probably."

As daily new cases skyrocket, hospitalizations are rising, too. Deaths, which lag furthest behind those other indicators, are beginning to tick up as well. With advances in clinical care for Covid-19 patients and new treatments such as the antiviral remdesivir and steroids like dexamethasone, health officials say they are able to save more Covid patients than ever. But with deaths on the rise, it remains to be seen how substantially the death rate has dropped in the roughly 11 months since the virus emerged.

Hospital systems in some parts of the country are scrambling to shore up resources amid the new surge in infections and hospitalized patients. In Texas, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego issued a curfew on Sunday, saying that hospitals and health workers are now "overwhelmed and exhausted." The Salt Lake Tribune reported over the weekend that the Utah Hospital Association is asking governor to authorize criteria for rationing care.

And in Illinois, tighter business restrictions were implemented last week in response to the rising case count. The governor ordered the closure of restaurants and bars in four counties and Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew for residents last week, saying the city is at a "critical moment."

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced on Monday a series of new restrictions on businesses as the New Jersey city faces a rapidly growing outbreak. All stores except supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations will close at 8 p.m. every day under the new restrictions. Restaurants and bars must end indoor service at 8 p.m. and outdoor service at 11 p.m., according to the restrictions. The restrictions say that gyms will have to close for a 30-minute cleaning every hour.

Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the rise in cases in the northern parts of the country is a preview of what's to come as other parts of the country hit colder weather. He said family gatherings during the holidays could prove especially dangerous.

"As families consider getting together for Thanksgiving, they really need to think twice about bringing their elderly parents and their younger kids and college kids in contact with one another," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Monday. "Because I think we're about to go through our most dangerous time here in the U.S."

The worrying rise in new cases come after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows acknowledged on Sunday that the U.S. is not going to control the pandemic.

"We're not going to control the pandemic," Meadows told CNN. "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations."

Pressed on why the U.S. can't make efforts to control the pandemic, Meadows said: "Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu."

Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, who leads the U.S. testing effort, said Monday, however, that "I think we can control the pandemic."

He cited efforts in Arizona, Florida and Texas earlier this year to bring outbreaks there under control as evidence that a coordinated effort to implement public health measures can bring the virus under control. He urged people to frequently wash their hands, wear a mask and to practice social distancing.

"The data are pretty clear that we can, not 100% defeat, but we can control it," he said.

—CNBC's Emma Newburger, Nate Rattner and Abigail Ng contributed to this report.

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Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. Pfizer has a manufacturing agreement with Gilead for remdesivir. Gottlieb also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel."