The US is approaching 8 million Covid-19 cases and the pace of new infections signals a tough winter

The US is approaching 8 million Covid-19 cases and the pace of new infections signals a tough winter.

The US is nearing 8 million Covid-19 cases and averaging more than 50,000 daily new infections -- a sign the country is in for a tough winter, experts say.

Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, called the rising average "an ominous sign."

"This is the time when we could be entering one of the worst periods of our epidemic and one of our worst periods in modern American public health," he said Thursday. "I'm very worried for the nation."

Public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned in recent months the country should try to lower its baseline ahead of the fall and winter months, to prepare for the new challenges that will arise. Those include the flu season, that could stack up against Covid-19 and create what doctors call a "twin-demic," as well as the upcoming holidays, when many Americans may let their guard down to celebrate with family and friends.

But it's not just national case trends that are concerning experts.

States across the US are now reporting upticks in test positivity, which has "proven in the past to be a very good prediction of a surge in cases, which ultimately leads to a surge in hospitalizations, and then ultimately, in some individuals that will obviously be an increase in deaths," Fauci said on "Good Morning America" Thursday.

An updated forecast from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects the US could top 389,000 Covid-19 deaths by February 1. And the latest ensemble forecast published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 20,000 Americans could die from the virus in just the next three weeks.

More than 217,000 Americans have already lost their lives to the virus.

'The virus is now winning'

At least 35 states are now reporting more new cases than the previous week, data from Johns Hopkins University shows. Fourteen states -- Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- were at their peak seven-day case average Thursday, according to the data.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas and Michigan, health officials reported the highest daily Covid-19 case count on record. In New Hampshire, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said the state saw a 56% increase in its number of active Covid-19 cases over the past week.

New Mexico's governor said in a news conference Thursday the state had a positivity of 8.1% and called the current state of the pandemic "the most serious emergency that New Mexico has ever faced."

That comes just days after she issued new restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus -- including a limit on mass gatherings and a 10 p.m. closing time for establishments serving alcohol.

"The virus is now winning," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. "We're in uncharted waters."

In parts of the state, ICU beds are "full," according to New Mexico Health and Human Services Secretary David Scrase.

"This is a serious time for the state of New Mexico," Scrase said, adding the state's curve for seven-day average daily cases was "dwarfing previous curves."

Masks could save 70,000 lives

It doesn't have to be this way. Experts have repeatedly said that doubling down on simple safety measures including masks, social distancing and hand washing can work to slow transmission of the virus and bring case numbers down.

Universal mask wearing could save the lives of more than 70,000 Americans in the next three and a half months, according to projections from the IHME.

And as cooler weather approaches, experts say, there are ways you can see some friends and family while still staying safe.

Global study finds remdesivir doesn't help Covid-19 patients

Meanwhile, World Health Organization officials announced Thursday the antiviral drug remdesivir has "little or no effect on mortality" for patients hospitalized with Covid-19.

The agency says this is "conclusive evidence" about the drug -- and the findings are disappointing.

Until now, remdesivir was the only drug that appeared to have specific effects for Covid-19 and the only drug with an emergency use authorization specifically for the virus from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Prior to the WHO's study, a large controlled study of remdesivir in the US found that it shortens recovery time by about a third in severely ill, hospitalized adults with Covid-19, but does little to help those with milder cases.

Gilead Sciences, the drug's maker, said the findings did not mean the drug is of no benefit.

"The emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals validating the clinical benefit of Veklury (remdesivir)," Gilead said in a statement. "We are concerned that the data from this open- label global trial have not undergone the rigorous review required to allow for constructive scientific discussion."

CNN's Amanda Watts, John Bonifield, Raja Razek and Ben Tinker contributed to this report.

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