For the tenth day in a row, the US reported more than 100,000 infections. On Thursday, with its highest number yet at more than 153,000 new infections, the country inched closer to what one expert predicted could soon become a devastating reality — 200,000 cases a day.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned Thursday the state was in the “worst part of this pandemic to date.”

“The curve that we had flattened? Right now, that curve is a straight line and it is straight up,” the governor said.

Just like experts predicted months ago, the fall Covid-19 surge is quickly proving to be worse than any other before and new projections offer a glimpse into just how bad things could soon get.

An ensemble forecast published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there could be up to 282,000 US Covid-19 deaths by December 5. That means nearly 40,000 Americans could lose their lives to the virus in the next three weeks.

And a projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) shows nearly 2,000 people could be dying of Covid-19 every day by the end of December.

‘Less is more this Thanksgiving’

The country may be headed in the wrong direction, but public health measures touted by officials for months — including face coverings, social distancing and regular hand washing — could provide much needed help. More than 17,000 lives could be saved by the end of the year if 95% of Americans wore face masks, according to IHME projections.

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In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu reported most new cases of the virus are occurring from gatherings where people did not wear masks.

“If there are circumstances where it’s a family member that’s not in your immediate family, even if you’re in your own house, you and that member should probably be wearing a mask,” the governor said. “The virus doesn’t care that it’s Uncle Bob.”

And the upcoming holidays will also play a critical role in how the pandemic continues to unfold. Experts have cautioned against big gatherings and have urged Americans who want to visit family to quarantine for 14 days.

But “separation should be the norm” this Thanksgiving, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said Thursday.

“Less is more this Thanksgiving,” Schaffner said. “It is the Covid Thanksgiving. We don’t want to give the virus while we’re giving thanks.”

Study: New, mutant virus strain spreads more easily

Researchers also now say they’ve found more evidence that a mutant version of the coronavirus that has overtaken an older strain to spread across much of the world is more easily transmitted — but does not appear to be any more dangerous.

And it hasn’t changed its physical shape so should be just as vulnerable to the body’s immune response whether natural or induced by a vaccine.

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The research team, led by two experts in the genetics of viruses — Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin -Madison and Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — studied the so-called D614G version of the coronavirus.

After conducting tests in lab animals and in Petri dishes containing the cells that line the human respiratory tract, the team found that the virus variant “exhibits more efficient infection, replication, and competitive fitness in primary human airway epithelial cells.”

The team’s findings validate earlier studies that showed the new strain spreads more easily and also supports evidence the mutation hasn’t made the virus more likely to cause severe disease. What the mutation may do is help the virus thrive better in the nose and upper respiratory tract — something that would help it spread among people.

‘Targeted vaccinations’ to start December or January, official says

Meanwhile, a top US official said Thursday every American who wants to get a vaccine will be able to do so by April.

“Initially, in December and January, we’re going to be having very targeted vaccinations, also helped in large part by some of our largest chains, like Walgreens and CVS,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN.

There will likely be enough vaccines for “all of our most vulnerable citizens” to get vaccinated in December, he said, followed by “all of our senior citizens, as well as our emergency first responders and our health care workers” in January.

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“By the end of March to early April, we think across all of the vaccines that we have invested in, we have enough for all Americans who wish to get vaccinated,” he said.

While the US doesn’t yet have an authorized Covid-19 vaccine, drugmaker Pfizer announced Monday that early data on its vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective. Officials widely expect the company to be able to apply for emergency use authorization by the end of the month.

The company has said it expects “logistical” challenges in distributing the two-dose vaccine because the shots needs to be stored in freezing temperatures.

“We’re working very hard on that,” Dr. John Burkhardt, Pfizer’s vice president of Global Drug Safety Research and Development, said earlier this week.

“There’s a whole suite of very experienced and talented people at Pfizer who are solely working on this, an army of people, and so it’s going to be important to work with the authorities, with state governments and others to provide that supply chain.”

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Elizabeth Cohen, Samira Said and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.

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