While the United States has historically led the way when it comes to dealing with diseases such as smallpox, polio and HIV, other countries were faster with a coronavirus response, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said Thursday. A number of countries – which he did not name – got going a lot more quickly than the United States, said Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds multiple health care initiatives. Countries with previous experience fighting SARS or MERS were the quickest and set up strong models, Gates said in a Time 100 talk. “If you score the US, our domestic response has been weak. It can improve,” he said. “Our (research and development) response – funding vaccines and therapeutics – has been the best in the world.” For instance, ramping up testing has been slow, Gates said. “The US is now starting, you know, to say hey, the testing turnaround can’t be long like this,” he said. Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, said testing is improving but not as good as he wants it to be. “It shouldn’t be acceptable,” he said, that the United States is so backlogged on coronavirus testing. Point-of-care testing, in which results come back in 15 minutes, is about 25% of the 860,000 tests given each day, he said. By September, that should grow to 50%. Giroir said testing can’t solve the pandemic and people need to wear masks and not congregate indoors in large groups. Gates said he thinks bars and restaurants should be allowed to have customers inside. He also suggested countries work hand in hand to fight the virus. “They also need to get together with other countries,” he said. “Because until we stop the pandemic in the entire world, it’s going to keep coming back.” The pandemic has been a huge setback for the United States, he said. “But we will get past it,” he said. “We’ll get economic growth to come back, and we’ll have these platforms that will mean the next time we’re faced with something like this, we’ll all do as well as the smart countries did this time.” More than 4.4 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 151,000 have died. Vermont announced first coronavirus death in six weeks Vermont has had its first Covid-19-related death in 43 days, State Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced. People who might have been affected by the person’s illness will be contacted and given guidance for their health and safety, Levine added. The state has had 57 Covid-19-related deaths and 1,407 cases, including one new case announced Thursday. The number of deaths has been rising nationwide as 30 states have seven-day averages that are higher than at this point last week. But as Vermont’s death toll remained low, Florida’s Thursday count was the third consecutive day of record reports, with 253 deaths – 17% higher than Wednesday’s total. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez told CNN’s “New Day” he doesn’t anticipate the trend to change soon, at least not in his area. “We’re going to see a higher level of deaths for some time, until we start to drop our positivity rate below 10%,” he said. “It was a steep rise to the top and I think it’s going to be a gradual decline. So we’re going to be at this for a while, but we’re not rising anymore.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters that emergency room visits and hospitalizations throughout the state are declining. Social distancing led to huge drop in global cases, study says Just two weeks of social distancing policies cut the spread of coronavirus by 65% globally, preventing more than 1.5 million new cases, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center estimate. They looked at data from 134 countries. In 46 countries, the policies had a strong effect, preventing an estimated 1.57 million cases of Covid-19 over a two-week period. That represents a 65% reduction in new cases, they said. They also looked at the United States, but only three states had no social distancing policies. Still the study showed differences. “We found that states observed significant reductions in transmission rates following the implementation of social distancing policies, compared to states without such policies,” Daniel McGrail, a postdoctoral fellow studying systems biology, said in a statement. “In fact, two of the smallest reductions in spread were seen in states without social distancing policies.” They compared Nebraska and Idaho, two states similar in population. Idaho had a social distancing policy while Nebraska did not. Idaho saw its spread rate drop .26 points, from .29 to .03, after enacting physical distance mandates. For a similar time period Nebraska saw a drop of .07 points. The middle of the country is seeing cases spike The sharp increase in infections that slammed the US Northeast in March and April followed by the South and West in June and July is now making its way inland. California, Florida, Texas and Arizona have seen sharp increases in coronavirus cases over the past two months and are starting to see their new daily case numbers level off at high daily infection rates. Hospitals are being pushed to their limits, and deaths, which generally trail weeks behind infections, have started to increase. That same process is now moving to the middle of the country as states including Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee are seeing an increase in the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive. “What inevitably is going to happen is that the states that are not yet in trouble, will likely get into trouble,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday in an interview on MSNBC. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, referred to this process as the virus “moving up.” She called on state and local officials to issue mask mandates in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday. “We believe if the governors and mayors of every locality right now would mandate masks for their communities and every American would wear a mask, and socially distance, and not congregate in large settings where you can’t socially distance or wear a mask, that we can really get control of this virus and drive down cases, as Arizona has done,” Birx said. The White House coronavirus task force has warned Midwestern governors that the time to get ahead of the curve is now before the numbers start to skyrocket in their states, Fauci said. “Before you know it, two to three weeks down the pike, you’re in trouble,” he said. The dismal economic numbers released Thursday underscore the importance of stopping the virus. The US economy contracted at a 32.9% annual rate from April through June, its worst drop on record, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Thursday.