US at 'critical inflection point' in COVID-19 outbreak, could soon 'be Italy,' surgeon general warns

The U.S. surgeon general said the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has reached a level comparable to what disease-battered Italy recorded two weeks ago — a signal that infections are expected to rise in America.

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"We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. "When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy."

Two weeks ago, there were 1,700 cases of coronavirus in Italy and the country had reported 34 deaths. Now, Italy is reporting an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 people have died.

The U.S. has recorded about 3,800 infections and at least 66 deaths, two-thirds of them in hard-hit Washington state.

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The head of the World Health Organization called the outbreak the “defining global health crisis of our time," noting that testing is the top priority.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded, and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus . “We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test.”

The U.S. has been slower than many countries in ramping up its testing capability, though the White House announced a string of measures last week to speed up the process.

MAP: This is where there are confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and around the world

Across the country, health officials, politicians and business leaders talked about "social distancing" and "flattening the curve," or encouraging people to avoid others so as to slow the spread of the virus and keep U.S. hospitals from being overwhelmed with a sudden deluge of patients.

A healthy volunteer became the first participant in a clinical trial of an experimental vaccine against the virus, receiving a dose at a research institute in Washington state. Public officials cautioned, however, that it will still take a year to 18 months to fully test and approve any vaccine.