Topiaries in front of a home in San Mateo, Calif., are pictured on August 22, portrayed as masked characters amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 10 (UPI) -- There was a small spike in new COVID-19 cases in the United States on Wednesday -- but a large increase in new deaths, updated data from Johns Hopkins University showed Thursday.
According to the university's Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there were about 34,300 new cases nationwide. That's an increase of about 8,000 cases from the previous day and the highest national count in several days.
Deaths were even more pronounced. Johns Hopkins data showed 1,200 patients died on Wednesday, the highest national toll in two weeks.
To date, there have been 6.362 million cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic. About 190,900 have died in that time, the data showed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it will drop a requirement that air travelers from certain countries must enter the United States through 15 designated airports for enhanced screening.
The rule requires visitors from Britain, mainland China, Iran, the Schengen region of the European Union, Ireland and Brazil must disembark at one of those airports. The CDC said requirement will be removed beginning Monday.
The rule initially caused long lines and crowding at the designated airports, which include Chicago O'Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
"We now have a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission that indicates symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness because people with COVID-19 may have no symptoms or fever at the time of screening, or only mild symptoms," the CDC said.
"Transmission of the virus may occur from passengers who have no symptoms or who have not yet developed symptoms of infection. Therefore, CDC is shifting its strategy and prioritizing other public health measures to reduce the risk of travel-related disease transmission."
The focus will shift to other measures like pre-departure, in-flight and post-arrival health education for passengers, "robust illness response" at airports and collection of contact information from passengers, the CDC said.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he would have taken more aggressive action to fight the disease in the early stages of the pandemic if President Donald Trump had been more upfront about the danger.
Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that he was aware COVID-19 was deadly and easily transmitted in early February, but that he "played it down" because he didn't want to "create a panic." Trump made the remarks in one of nearly 20 interviews he gave to Woodward for his new book, Rage.
For weeks after the February interview, Trump repeatedly made reassuring public remarks about the coronavirus spread and insisted the virus would "disappear" and "all work out fine." Reaction to Trump's interview Wednesday was almost universally critical, with most saying Trump's actions likely allowed the virus to spread and contributed to tens of thousands of American deaths.
"If we had known that earlier, we would have shut the state meaningfully earlier," Murphy told CNN. "We would have gone to a mandatory masking policy meaningfully earlier. We would have had a stay-at-home mandate put in place, all of which we did and we did it about as early as any American state.
"But we would have done it earlier and undoubtedly would have saved lives."
In California, a group of more than 70 Stanford University medical school professors have signed a letter condemning the "herd immunity" strategy advocated by a former colleague, Scott Atlas, who is now one of Trump's top medical advisers.
A herd immunity strategy would allow the coronavirus to spread unfettered through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, with special precautions to prevent vulnerable populations such as nursing home residents.
The Stanford professors argued that a such an approach would cause "a significant increase in preventable cases, suffering and deaths, especially among vulnerable populations." They accused Atlas of promoting "falsehoods and misrepresentations of science."
Researchers at the University of Washington estimated last week that U.S. coronavirus deaths could surpass 600,000 by January under a herd immunity strategy.