COVID-19 cases top 10 million in US as Biden sets up task force

President-elect Biden set to announce a 12-member task force to deal with pandemic as US becomes first country to cross 10 million cases.

People wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus walk in downtown Los Angeles, California, on November 5, 2020 [Robyn Beck /AFP]

The United States has become the first country worldwide to report more than 10 million COVID-19 infections, according to data from the Reuters news agency.

The development on Sunday came as global coronavirus cases exceeded 50 million.

President-elect Joe Biden, who spent much of his election campaign criticising President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, has pledged to make tackling the pandemic in the US a top priority. The Democrat is set to announce a 12-member task force on Monday to deal with COVID-19 that will be led by former surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler.

The coronavirus task force will be charged with developing a blueprint for containing the disease once Biden takes office in January.

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” Biden said during his victory speech on Saturday. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments – hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us – until we get this virus under control.”

He added: “I will spare no effort – or commitment – to turn this pandemic around.”

The US has reported about a million cases in the past 10 days, the highest rate of infections since the country reported its first novel coronavirus case in Washington state 293 days ago.

Among those who have tested positive in recent days are six White House aides, including Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff.

People line up at a COVID-19 rapid test site on November 7, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida [Marta Lavandier/ AP]

A record 131,420 COVID-19 cases were registered on Saturday and the daily count has crossed 100,000 four times in the past seven days, according to Reuters’ data. The US’s latest report showed a seven-day average of 105,600 daily cases, which had ramped up by at least 29 percent, was more than the combined average for India and France, two of the worst-affected countries in Asia and Europe.

Hard-fought campaign

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the illness caused by the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year.

The number of reported deaths nationwide climbed by more than 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a trend last seen in mid-August, according to Reuters.

Health experts say deaths tend to increase four to six weeks after infections jump, which is likely to deepen the challenge facing Biden as he takes office on January 20 next year.

Trump, who is yet to concede the election, has repeatedly downplayed the pandemic, telling voters the country was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.

A bipartisan group of officials from the Barack Obama, George W Bush, and Bill Clinton administrations on Sunday called on the Trump administration to move forward “to immediately begin the post-election transition process”.

“This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors,” members of the Center for Presidential Transition advisory board said in a statement.

Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, in an interview with broadcaster NBC’s Meet the Press show, called for Republican support for an orderly transition.

“People want the country to move forward” she said, and see Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “have the opportunity to do the work, to get the virus under control and to get our economy back together”.

Biden’s plans for addressing the outbreak include improved testing, expanded production of personal protective equipment, safe vaccine development and the safe reopening of schools. The New York Times newspaper said that while Biden would like to see a national mask mandate, his advisers have concluded that he does not have the legal authority to impose one.

National plan

Murthy, the former surgeon general who will lead Biden’s task force, told the US National Public Radio that Biden will focus on helping Americans get what they need to keep themselves and their families safe.

“We have to function as one nation. That means having a national plan,” he said.

“What you’re going to see is a laser focus on ensuring that people get … adequate testing and clear information,” he added.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska being the five worst-affected states in the US.

Illinois has emerged as the new epicentre in the Midwest, with the state reporting more than 60,000 COVID-19 infections in the last seven days, the highest in the country, according to Reuters data. The state reported more than 12,454 new cases on Saturday, the highest single-day number so far.

Texas, which accounts for 10 percent of total US cases, is the hardest-hit state and became the first to surpass a million coronavirus cases in the US on Saturday.

According to a Reuters analysis, the south has been the location of nearly 43 percent of all the cases in the US since the pandemic began, with nearly 4.3 million cases in the region alone, followed by the Midwest, West and Northeast.

New York, with more than 33,000 fatalities, remains the state with highest number of deaths and accounts for about 14 percent of total US deaths.

The US performed about 10.5 million coronavirus tests in the first seven days of November, of which 6.22 percent came back positive, compared with 6.17 percent in the previous seven days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The World Health Organization recommends the test positivity rate from a comprehensive testing programme should be at or below 5 percent for at least 14 days before a region can relax restrictions or begin reopening.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies