Some Americans take holiday from social distancing; officials fear future spikes in coronavirus cases

Author: Christina Maxouris, CNN
Published: Updated:
FILE PHOTO: With the relaxing of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, visitors crowd the boardwalk on Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City, Maryland, U.S., May 23, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

At a glance, it may look like many Americans have forgotten about the dangers of coronavirus.

Crowds packed beaches in Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Virginia and Indiana over the Memorial Day weekend — many venturing out without masks and others failing to keep their distance even as officials highlighted the continued importance of both in order to prevent another surge of infections.

It wasn’t just the beaches. Pictures posted on social media showed mostly unmasked people crowded together at ACE Speedway in Altamahaw, North Carolina, on Saturday.

“We’re tired of being stuck in the house. I’m not afraid of this virus one bit,” spectator Becky Woosley told CNN affiliate WGHP.

Speedway co-owner Jason Turner told CNN affiliate WXII that 2,500 fans were admitted — half of the speedway capacity — and that staff encouraged but did not enforce social distancing.

“People have the right to choose where they go and what they do,” he said.

In Daytona Beach, people elbow-to-elbow jammed a main thoroughfare. Mayor Derrick Henry said there’s only so much police can do with a crowd that size.

“They were not practicing social distancing and they did not necessarily respond in a lot of ways that we wanted them to as it relates to the normal expectations of visitors,” he told CNN. “When … you got 300 to 500 people per law enforcement officer, it is a tough order.”

In Missouri, hundreds attended a pool party just days after a similar party in neighboring Arkansas caused a cluster of new coronavirus cases. Arkansas’ governor said the state is now experiencing a “second peak.”

‘They’re willing to take the risk’

Coronavirus cases are trending upward in Alabama. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said Monday morning that he thinks the early easing of restrictions in his state has given people “a false sense of security.”

“What we’re seeing is kind of a split community¬†where you have people who believe this is over and have decided they’re going to get back to their normal way of life and they’re willing to take the risk,” Reed said on CNN.¬†“What they’re not considering is the risk they’re¬†posing to others when they do not see some of the symptoms in themselves.”

As health officials warn the deadly virus isn’t yet contained, local leaders across the country are working to enforce regulations put in place for stores, bars and restaurants that have reopened.

In Houston, the mayor said authorities will begin enforcing capacity limits for bars and restaurants after the city received hundreds of complaints alleging violations.

“The reality is that there are too many people who are coming together,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

“No social distancing, no mask. And then after this Memorial Day weekend is over they’re going to be on somebody’s job or in close proximity to somebody else.”

Cape May, New Jersey, didn’t have crowds this weekend because of the weather, but the city is looking ahead, Mayor Clarence Lear told CNN on Monday. “We’ve talked about limiting the number of daily tags so we can both visually and numerically know when we’re at what we consider capacity,” he said.

New Haven, Connecticut, Mayor Justin Elicker said the city has taken out picnic tables and banned cooking out to cut down on crowds.

“New Haven residents have been really good at following the social distancing guidelines but people also feel really cooped up and I think a lot of people are feeling frustrated,” he said.

The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, City Council passed an executive order for the weekend banning mopeds and golf carts in certain areas, and giving police authority to shut down certain businesses as necessary from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. City Manager John Pedersen said as of Sunday, no businesses had been shut down but a couple of businesses that were over their capacity limit had to adjust their occupancy.

Mayor Henry from Daytona Beach said enforcing the face mask rule is realistically impossible because of the sheer number of offenders.

“We don’t have enough facilities to harbor that many people who do not follow guidelines,” he said.

The commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration on Sunday urged Americans observing Memorial Day weekend to follow federal guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

“With the country starting to open up this holiday weekend, I again remind everyone that the coronavirus is not yet contained. It is up to every individual to protect themselves and their community. Social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks protect us all,” Dr. Stephen Hahn wrote in a tweet.

So far, infections in the country top 1,643,000 and deaths inch closer to 100,000.

Spike of cases in Washington, DC

As Americans push to return to normal lifestyles and the country continues lifting coronavirus restrictions, experts say many parts of the country are still not heading in the right direction.

North Carolina recorded its highest single-day surge of new cases over the weekend and parts of Maryland, Virginia, Illinois and other states are still seeing a high number of infections, said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator.

In Washington, DC, health officials are reporting a spike of new cases — an increase that could be a setback for the criteria officials are using to decide when the city will begin its first stage of reopening.

Until this weekend, Washington recorded 11 days of declining community spread of the coronavirus. The city said 14 days of decline were needed before they moved to reopen. Sunday would have been the 13th day of decline — but instead there was a small spike over the last two days.

But because the spike was a small one, health officials say they’ll consider setting back to the 11th day of the decline instead of starting the count from the beginning.

“We don’t have to go to day zero,” Director of the DC Department of Health, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, said in a news conference call.

There are two other factors officials will consider before reopening: A positivity rate of less than 20% and a hospital capacity of less than 80%.

As of Sunday, the city’s positivity rate is 19% and hospital capacity is at 74%.

A 17-year-old dies in Georgia

In Georgia, one of the first states to begin reopening, officials reported Sunday the state’s youngest coronavirus death.

The victim was a 17-year-old boy, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. The boy had underlying medical conditions. The department didn’t offer any further details.

The boy’s death is a grim reminder that while officials have cautioned elderly populations are at a higher risk for complications related to an infection, younger people fall victim to the virus as well.

That includes the 5-year-old daughter of two Detroit first responders who died last month after being diagnosed with the virus.

It also includes the 5-month old daughter of a New York firefighter, who died late April after spending a month in the hospital receiving treatment for the virus.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that while many young people who got coronavirus did not have serious problems, health experts are investigating a virus-related complication in children across the country, dubbed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

Doctors said last week children who may have the syndrome need immediate attention and will probably need to be hospitalized.

Symptoms may include stomach pain and vomiting, along with fever and perhaps a rash, experts say.

White House rolls out travel restrictions

As US officials try to get a handle on the spread of the virus, President Donald Trump announced Sunday he was suspending travel into the US for people who had been to Brazil within the past two weeks.

“I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States,” the President’s proclamation reads.

Brazil now is second to the US with the highest number of coronavirus cases, recording more than 363,200 infections, according to Johns Hopkins.

Over the weekend, the country recorded more than 15,000 new infections in just 24 hours.

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