As the coronavirus continued to surge in many parts of the United States, officials and experts offered starkly different outlooks on Sunday about what was to come and when the situation might improve.

Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, noting that many have grown tired of pandemic precautions, tried to paint an optimistic picture of how much longer they would be needed.

“Hang in there with us,” he said on Sunday on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “We’re so close. We’re weeks away from monoclonal antibodies for you, for safe and effective vaccines. We need a bridge to that day.”

“Please,” Mr. Azar said, “give us a bit more time of your individual, responsible behavior,” referring to hand washing, wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

But any notion that life in America might be returning to normal within weeks, or even a few months, is too hopeful, other officials and experts said. The public health measures with which the public is fatigued will be needed for some time to come, even after new drugs and vaccines can be approved, they said.

And in the big picture, the numbers are headed the wrong way.

On Friday, more than 70,450 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States, the highest figure since July 24, according to a New York Times database, and more than 900 new deaths were recorded. Case counts are rising in 41 of the 50 states, with much of the worst news in the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the public did not know what to believe about how soon a vaccine would be available. And communicating clearly and credibly with the public is just as important as the science, he said, because slowing the spread of the virus depends on individuals taking the right precautions.

“The next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic,” Dr. Osterholm said on “Meet the Press.”

A similar warning was sounded by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that the country was headed into “probably the most difficult phase of this epidemic.”

“I think the next three months are going to be very challenging,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

NYTIMES

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