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CDC says U.S. could control coronavirus in 12 weeks if most Americans wear masks, social distance

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, D.C., July 31, 2020.

Erin Scott | Pool | Reuters

The U.S. could get the coronavirus pandemic under control if most Americans wear masks, embrace social distancing and practice good hand hygiene for up to three months, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

“It’s in our hands, within our grasp,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters on a conference call. “But it is going to require all of us to embrace these mitigation steps. And we’re going to need to do that four, six, eight, 10, 12 weeks and then we will see this outbreak under control.”

At least 90% of Americans need to wear masks, social distance and wash hands regularly, he said.

“I think we’re seeing progress over the last four weeks, I hope that progress will continue, but I think none of us should turn away from the recognition that it’s key each of us recognize we want to make sure Covid stops with us,” he said. 

The U.S. reported more than 44,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, marking an 11% drop in the seven-day average of daily new cases compared with last week, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Redfield said Thursday that coronavirus deaths, which have remained above an average of 1,000 a day since the end of July, will likely begin to drop over the next week as new cases have been on a sustained decline since about the same time. Deaths tend to lag new infections by a few weeks. 

The CDC expects the rate of deaths to drop in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina over the next four weeks, while predicting deaths in Minnesota to increase, according to the agency’s website.

During the conference call, Redfield urged parents to get their kids vaccinated for influenza as public health officials fear the seasonal flu could further complicate the coronavirus pandemic during the fall season. Health officials had hoped the coronavirus would abate during the summer months, but that has not happened. 

At the same time, Redfield, who said he has 11 grandchildren, urged for schools to reopen. 

He has previously warned of “significant public health consequences,” including a rise in adolescent drug use and suicide, if schools don’t reopen in the fall. 

“I think the most important thing in all school reopenings is that in order for them to reopen and stay open we have to have confidence in teachers and parents it’s safe for them to return,” he said. “I have great confidence my grandchildren can go back to school and do this in a safe and sensible way.”

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