“We are at the worst moment of this pandemic to date.” Those are the sobering words of a United States Governor that finds her state of Michigan, like many across the country, in the grips of a spiralling coronavirus pandemic that saw the country surpass 11 million cases on Sunday.

Despite the welcome news of the efficacy of a second vaccine by pharmaceutical company, Moderna, which revealed an almost 95% efficacy; cases are surging in every state of the country.

COVID-19 related hospitalisations are at almost 70 000, the highest number since the virus first appeared in the country.

The US added one million new cases in just the past week, over 180 000 on Friday alone, Saturday 159 000 and Sunday almost 140 000.

States like Washington, Michigan and others are imposing sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including halting indoor dining at restaurants.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says they are in the worst moment of the pandemic.

“We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date; the situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice and we need to take some action because as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, this virus will spread, more people will get sick and there will be more fatalities.”

The rural States of North and South Dakota, where COVID-19 restrictions have been minimal at best, are among the hardest hit with South Dakota’s per capita death rate among the highest anywhere in the world.

Officials in Washington State on the West Coast, the first state to confirm a COVID-19 case back in January, are now warning the situation is much worse than it was back in March.

Governor Jay Inslee has instituted a one-month ban on indoor services at restaurants and gyms among others.

“Indoor social gatherings with people from outside your home are prohibited unless they quarantine for 14 days prior to the social gathering or a quarantine for the seven days prior to the gathering and receive a negative COVID-19 test result, no more than 48 hours prior to the gathering. Restaurants and bars are closed for indoor service.”

Vaccine

With over 245 000 COVID-19 related deaths countrywide, revelations earlier Monday that a second vaccine produced by Moderna is 94.5% effective, following similar data from Pfizer last week, with both indicating they would seek emergency use authorisation in the weeks ahead.

Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the Moderna vaccine is almost identical to the Pfizer one.

“I have every reason to believe that the Moderna product is going to be similar. As you said correctly, you never know until the study is done. But it’s an almost identical platform to Pfizer, so I would not be surprised at all if it was highly effective. The next question is: Is it safe? So far, in the early and intermediate level, we don’t see any red flags of any safety signals. Now, there’s been 30 000 Moderna and 42 or 43 000 so far from Pfizer, and we haven’t seen anything that has even caused a pause in the trials. That’s really good news.”

Thanksgiving gatherings

With the Thanksgiving holiday looming next week, concerns that family gatherings could further complicate mitigation efforts.

Dr Robert Kim-Farley of the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, says this holiday season is a critical one.

“I think that this holiday season is a very critical one for us and we just have to realize that it cannot be business as usual like we did last year for this holiday. And the degree to which we can maintain some vigilance, mask-wearing, limiting the numbers of people coming together. In California, we’re limited to three families or less coming together and again, out of doors, single-use plates, things like this that are very important to realize. We just can’t slide back and become complacent.”

Further complicating efforts, the refusal of the administration of President Donald Trump to concede his re-election loss and work with the incoming team of President-elect Joe Biden, particularly on the pandemic.