(CNN) As the US recorded its five highest days of coronavirus cases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield said this is the perfect time to develop a strategy to better detect asymptomatic cases.
The nationwide seven-day average of new daily cases now stands at about 86,363 -- more than double what it was on September 4, data from Johns Hopkins University show. The rising numbers affirm experts' warnings another surge is well underway and will only get worse.
"Now is the time to develop a testing strategy to maximize our ability to identify the silent epidemic of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections," Redfield tweeted Wednesday. By the CDC's estimate, 40% of people with Covid-19 show no symptoms.
Redfield's tweet described a weekend meeting with fellow White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to discuss testing and mitigation efforts in Utah. On Tuesday, Utah was among 21 states that saw their peak seven-day average for new daily cases.
Dr. Thomas Tsai of the Harvard Global Health Institute told CNN in an email the time to develop a national testing strategy to identify asymptomatic Covid-19 infections passed a few months ago.
"But that ship has sailed," Tsai said. "Now is the time to implement a testing strategy focused on screening of asymptomatic individuals."
And while doctors have stressed basic public health measures like masks and social distancing can turn things around, such measures remain a point of contention in some parts of the US.
States change travel advisories amid surge
As of Tuesday, at least 36 states reported more new cases in the last week versus the week prior, Johns Hopkins data show. And six states -- Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- reported their highest one-day case count Tuesday.
New Jersey updated its quarantine advisory for those traveling to the state, according to a press release from Gov. Phil Murphy's office. Anyone traveling to New Jersey from 43 states and territories will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
New York broke with its initial advisory Wednesday, issuing a new one that said anyone traveling to New York would require a negative Covid-19 test three days prior to their trip. Then once in the state, the traveler would be required to quarantine for three days before getting another test.
In Kentucky, where the governor has long cautioned that infections were climbing quickly, he said Tuesday that "every day, things appear to be getting worse."
"We are seeing not only a surge in the virus, but more and more of our kids by percentage who are getting it," Gov. Andy Beshear said.
As a result, Beshear issued an executive order renewing the mandate for face coverings for an additional 30 days, according to a press release. He extended previous executive orders that allow pharmacists to dispense emergency refills for up to 30 days.
His words follow an alarming new report saying that Covid-19 case counts were impacting children around the country at "unprecedented levels," with the last week of October seeing the highest one-week count of new juvenile infections so far.
The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals as been rising, and hundreds of people are losing their lives every day. There are at least 9.4 million cases in the US and more than 233,000 have died since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins. And about another 100,000 Americans may die in just the next two months, projections from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show.
Hospitalizations 'sharply increasing' in Midwest
Across the country, 50,340 people were in hospitals with the virus on Tuesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. That's an increase of about 76% since September 20, when Covid-19 hospitalizations were at a post-summer-surge low.
Hospitalizations are "sharply increasing" in the Midwest, the tracking project said on Twitter.
In Nebraska, health officials say a surge of infections has put a strain on hospitals statewide. Chief medical officers of three major hospital systems said Monday that Covid-19 hospitalizations had increased 91% in the Omaha metro area between October 17 and October 31. Now, hospital capacity and staff are approaching their limits, the hospital officials said.
"We have seen a doubling of Covid-positive patients in the last several weeks," Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer of CHI Health, said. "No doubt if this trend continues, not just our hospitals, but every hospital in the state could be at capacity."
In Minnesota, the recent surge led Gov. Tim Walz to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to send more staff to hospitals and long-term care facilities.
"The governor outlined the need to extend current federal staff support and provide an additional 10 medical professionals to help the state combat rising cases of COVID-19," the release said.
Federal nurses have already been sent to Minnesota, Walz wrote.
"These medical professionals have been critical as we face staffing shortages in long-term care, and as we anticipate increased medical staffing shortages in long-term care and additional settings moving forward," Walz wrote.
NIH director: Masks could save 130,000 by March
Face masks, a powerful tool that doctors and public health officials have vouched for in the battle against the virus, can help save tens of thousands of lives in the coming months, one leading expert helped emphasize this week.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has highlighted predictions of the University of Washington's IHME model, which projects more than 130,000 lives could be saved in the US from now to March if 95% of Americans wore masks.
"What's important here aren't the precise numbers," Francis wrote in a blog post . "It's the realization that, under any scenario, this pandemic is far from over, and, together, we have it within our power to shape what happens next."
It's an argument that's been made multiple times in the past months by officials nationwide: Wearing face coverings, socially distancing and regularly washing hands can be nearly as powerful as lockdowns in helping to curb the spread of the virus.
"Think about it in the same way you think about putting on your seat belt -- a minor inconvenience that can save lives," Collins wrote. "I'm careful to wear a mask outside my home every time I'm out and about. But, ultimately, saving lives and livelihoods as we head into these winter months will require a collective effort from all of us."