While New York and New Jersey were the early virus hotspots, California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have become the states to watch, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, said.

Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that “the inevitable happened” after the US tried to reopen and he saw “pictures and photos and films of people at bars with no masks, congregating in crowds.”

The country’s “baseline” was around 20,000 new cases a day when reopening started.

“The problem is, since we started off our baseline so high, as we tried to open up, you saw that there was a wide variation in how that was done,” he said. Cases started to rise, “and now we’re hanging around 60,000. That’s untenable. We’ve got to turn that around, and that’s really the issue we’ve got to address right now.”

The United States saw a record number of new cases Tuesday with 67,417, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Tuesday, more than 3.4 million people had been infected, and 38 states reported an increase in the number of new cases from the week before.

As new cases continue to emerge, at least 27 states have paused or rolled back plans to reopen their economies. Covid-19 is a “pandemic of historic proportions,” Fauci said Tuesday.

“We can’t deny that fact,” he said. Fauci compared the current crisis to the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people globally and about 675,000 in the US. “That was the mother of all pandemics and truly historic. I hope we don’t even approach that with this, but it does have the makings of, the possibility of … approaching that in seriousness.”

Fauci told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he was not suggesting that tens of millions of people will die of coronavirus. He said this pandemic is “historic” in the sense that it is also a highly contagious and lethal novel virus, for which there is currently no vaccine.

What is different this time is that we have more tools at our disposal to combat the pathogen, as well as instant communications to warn and inform the public, Fauci said.

On Wednesday, two Southern states took steps to promote the wearing of masks.

Alabama became the 36th state to require them in public. The mandate from Gov. Kay Ivey is part of an amended safer-at-home order her office announced.

And as the number of cases soars in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday on Twitter that his state is “working around the clock to enhance hospital bed surge capacity” and urged residents to “wear a mask” and “practice social distancing.”

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is the latest national chain to require all customers to wear masks. The change is set to begin next week. Walmart joins Starbucks, Best Buy and Costco in requiring shoppers to wear masks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone “should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public.” The CDC said “face coverings are meant to protect other people.”

Hopes for a successful vaccine

A major factor in determining how long the US will have to live with a coronavirus pandemic, experts say, is how quickly researchers can produce a vaccine.

Without one, CDC Director Robert Redfield said, “we’re going to have to go through two or three years of wrestling with this virus.”

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But Redfield also said he has “never seen the government move faster” and is hoping that the nation will have a successful vaccine by January.

Creation of the vaccine is not the end of the virus, however. It must then be distributed to enough people, along with survivors of the virus, to establish herd immunity.

Companies developing vaccines have said they will be able to make up to a billion doses, Fauci said Tuesday. He is hopeful those vaccines can be developed and distributed within the next year to 18 months, he said.

Laredo needs to use hotel as surge hospital

Hospitals in the South Texas city of Laredo are full, the city’s health authority, Dr. Victor Trevino, told the city council Tuesday.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency team will arrive in the city this week to convert a local hotel to a surge hospital site to treat Covid-19 patients, Interim Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Ramiro Elizondo said at the council meeting.

The site will provide 106 beds and will help expand the hospital capacity for non-ICU patients, he said.

Trevino said there is a still an issue in the area with ICU capacity that needs to be addressed.

“Even if we have temporary hospitals, we still have to press the issue of ICUs,” Trevino told the council. “To set up a temporary ICU would be a feat in itself, but we have to be pushing for that, because we could run out of Covid ICUs.”

Laredo officials reported another 162 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 3,373 — 2,383 of which are active cases. A total of 168 people are hospitalized and 71 of those are in the ICU, officials said.

Death toll predictions rise from surge

Before the development of any vaccine, thousands more Americans will die from the virus, an influential model says.

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The model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now projecting that 224,000 people will die from the virus by November 1, which is an increase of almost 16,000 from the week before.

That jump is due to skyrocketing cases around the country, particularly in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, chair of the IHME Dr. Chris Murray told CNN’s Don Lemon.

On Wednesday, Florida reported 301,810 positive cases across the state, an increase of 10,181 cases from the previous day, according to new numbers released by the Florida Department of Health. A total of 19,334 people are currently hospitalized across the state.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday he has tested positive for Covid-19, and the state reported a record high number of new cases.

Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa last month and was spotted in the crowd without a mask on. Tulsa has seen a surge in cases in the aftermath of the rally that health officials say was likely caused by the event that hosted roughly 6,000 people indoors, most of whom did not wear a mask.

Based on contact tracing, the Oklahoma State Department of Health says the governor did not contract Covid-19 at the rally.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Wednesday that there are 22,813 total cases in the state, up 1,075 from Tuesday. The previous daily record of 993 new cases was set on Tuesday. There are currently 561 people hospitalized due to the virus.

More states set coronavirus records Tuesday.

Texas reported a record high daily number of new cases with more 10,745. Mississippi has its highest numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations by far since the first case was reported, Gov. Tate Reeves said. California also set records with 6,745 hospitalizations and 1,886 ICU admissions, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

The virus is so widespread that laboratories are getting more coronavirus samples than they can process, the American Clinical Laboratory Association said Tuesday.

Back-to-school dates drawing closer

As the case numbers grow, officials continue to debate the best plan for the new school year.

At a press conference Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster called on all public school districts to submit plans for reopening that give parents the option to send children back to school or keep them home for distance learning.

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It’s critical to get children back in their classrooms “where they all want to be,” he said. “Try as we might, we know that virtual education is not as good for most children as face-to-face, in-class education.”

McMaster said he has asked South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman not to approve any school district’s plan that doesn’t give parents an in-person option.

McMaster also recognized the technology gap in parts of the state where families without internet access can’t participate. He said 10,000 students have not been heard from since the pandemic began.

In California, public school students in San Francisco will start the fall semester with learning online, officials announced Wednesday.

Some of Orange County’s largest school districts said they will not follow the county education board’s recommendations to return students and teachers to the classroom this fall without face masks or social distancing.

Many are still discussing their alternatives, but Anaheim and Santa Anita Unified School Districts said their school years will start with full distance learning.

CNN’s Elizabeth Stuart, Sarah Moon, Amanda Watts, Joe Sutton, Jason Hoffman, Jennifer Henderson, Molly Silverman, Raja Razek and Jenn Selva contributed to this report.

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