Without a national effort to adhere to preventative measures, the nation's top infectious disease doctor said, it will be impossible to predict how much longer the Covid-19 pandemic will last in the United States.
The US is seeing a resurgence of coronavirus infections after states began reopening their economies, with the number of cases now at more than 4.4 million and the death toll at 152,070, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation increased its forecast to 219,864 total deaths by November, in part because the nation continues to debate measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
"The thing we need to do is we need to pull out all the stops to get it down to baseline and to keep it there by doing the things that we've been talking about -- that I've been talking about -- consistently," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday during CNN's coronavirus town hall.
Regularly taking such precautions is especially important given that a backlog in getting test results is rendering some coronavirus testing practically useless.
"It shouldn't be acceptable" that US testing is so backlogged, assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services Adm. Brett Giroir said Thursday.
While he said about 25% of tests give results in about 15 minutes, most take days. Giroir said his goal is for all tests to be "sensitive and specific and back within 15 minutes."
But, he said, "you can't test your way out of this," and people should wear masks, avoid crowds and avoid being indoors with others.
Added Fauci: "If we do that, then I think we will be well toward seeing this under control. If we don't, then we can't make a prediction about how long this will last."
Uncertainty around rapidly developing vaccine
Meantime, the race is on for a vaccine to protect against coronavirus, and though some early data looks promising there are still questions around vaccines in development.
Operation Warp Speed, the federal government's multi-billion dollar Covid-19 vaccine program, has provided funding for two potential vaccines that have quickly made their way to advanced human trial phases.
The head of the operation, Moncef Slaoui, said Thursday he wouldn't be surprised if a vaccine turned out to be 90% effective against the virus, but Fauci said only time will tell.
"We will hope its going to be that way," Fauci said. "As we've said all the time, you just never can tell. The proof of the pudding is to do the clinical trial and get the result and that's actually what we're doing."
But people will need to get the vaccine in order for it to protect them, and even those who aren't deterred by existing conspiracy theories around vaccines could be scared off even by the project's name, Bill Gates said Thursday.
"We certainly need people to be rational about vaccines. They eradicated smallpox, they saved millions and millions of lives," he said. "They are very complex to design, and that's why, you know, saying it's being done at Warp Speed is a little scary, because you really need to do the safety checks very, very carefully," said the founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Gates said the public should take comfort that the nonpolitical staff at the Food and Drug Administration are holding the line to ensure the rapidly developing drugs are effective and safe.
Plans put into action as first day of school nears
As the start of the school year grows closer, officials are tasked with balancing public concern over children's safety with the impact virtual learning could have on their education and welfare.
In New York City, students will return to school with safety protocols for cleaning, contact tracing and distancing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
"We are doing everything in our power to keep kids healthy while ensuring they are getting the education they deserve. These rigorous test and trace protocols will keep our students and staff safe as we start off this new school year," de Blasio said.
Philadelphia originally was going to return to a school year that combined virtual and in-person learning, but after backlash the Board of Education voted to provide all remote learning until at least November, with Superintendent Dr. William Hite promising that the change will not remove the emphasis on student achievement.
Districts in Florida are still weighing their options, but Gov. Ron DeSantis is advocating for a model based on parents' choice.
"I believe that there should be a choice for parents throughout Florida," DeSantis said."Parents who prefer distance learning should be able to opt for it, and parents who desire in person instruction should have access to it."
States try to turn trends downward
As parents and school districts weigh their choices, state officials are strategizing how to reverse climbing infection numbers.
Texas researchers estimated Thursday that just two weeks of social distancing policies cut the spread of coronavirus by 65%, while states that have resisted those policies saw almost no reduction.
Illinois could be reversing its reopening plan and heading back toward social distancing policies if the number of positive cases continue to climb, said Governor J.B. Pritzker during a news conference on Thursday.
Arizona is a state "headed in the right direction" with a downward trend since early July, Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday.
"This is not a victory lap. This is not a celebration. If anything, it's evidence that the decisions, and the sacrifice that Arizonans are making are working," Ducey said.