Washington is the latest state to pause its reopening plans after a spike in the number of new cases of coronavirus across the country.
“We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday. “This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.”
At least a dozen other states, including some of the most populous in the country, have taken similar measures in the past few days.
More than half of the states are facing a surge of coronavirus cases and it’s threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
“The community’s infection rate is three times higher today than it was three months ago,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters.
Texas and at least five other states — Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee and Utah — reported the highest single-day totals of new Covid-19 cases, according to the state’s health departments. Florida, seen possibly as the next US epicenter, reported its highest one-day total of new cases on Saturday with 9,585 cases.
And it is not just those states seeing rising numbers. The national number of daily coronavirus case reports reached a new high of nearly 40,000 on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and 32 states are seeing the number of new cases grow from the prior week.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Friday that “nothing has changed in the last week” and the surge was the result of a “test dump.”
But the governor of Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state, paused his state’s phased reopening plan and ordered further restrictions on businesses including bars.
More governors have announced that they are not moving ahead to their next reopening phases. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina.
Metropolitan areas across the US seeing exponential growth in cases means the nation will likely see a “dramatic increase” in the virus’ trajectory, Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor and dean of tropical medicine at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine told CNN.
“At least in the metro areas, we’ve got people wearing masks now, the bars are closed and we’ve got some advocacy coming out of the county judge and the mayor,” Hotez said about Texas. “I don’t know how much this will really slow this incredibly aggressive rise. It’s like trying to stop a train coming down the tracks.”
‘For goodness sakes: avoid crowds’
The rise in cases for more than half of the country comes as people venture outside to enjoy summer activities and relaxed restrictions after a spring spent indoors to curb the virus’ spread.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, urged Americans to go back to the basics to prevent spreading or becoming infected with the virus.
“For goodness sakes: avoid crowds, wear masks. Those are the fundamentals that — when you look at the television clips when you see pictures in the newspapers — people are not doing that. That’s a recipe for disaster,” Fauci told CNBC.
Many institutions are taking steps to disperse large groups. A federal judge ruled Friday that the US government must release migrant children held in government family detention centers by mid-July. They must be released into the care of a parent or, if that is not an option, to “available suitable sponsors or other available COVID-free non-congregate settings” with the consent of their parents or guardians.
In Texas, the Pride Houston parade agreed to hold a virtual rally instead of an in-person event, the organization wrote Friday in a statement on Facebook.
“Pride Houston understands that we do not live in a bubble and we are also in the middle of another public health crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic,” the organization wrote.
Following outbreaks after large beach gatherings, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Friday that he will sign an emergency order Saturday to close the county’s beaches for the Fourth of July weekend.
The order bans any gatherings, including parades, of more than 50 people throughout the county during that time. Fireworks displays will need to be viewed from homes or parked vehicles, Gimenez said in a statement.
‘A bar setting in reality just doesn’t work with a pandemic’
Reopening bars has been a challenge for Florida and Texas.
“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would’ve been to slow down the opening of bars. Now, seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting — and, you know, a bar setting in reality just doesn’t work with a pandemic,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNN affiliate KVIA.
The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission last week temporarily suspended the alcohol permits of 12 bars in Texas after they were found to be in violation of the state’s protocols to slow the spread. Videos and photos posted by the commission on Twitter show crowded bars over the weekend with seemingly no social distancing. On Friday, Abbott ordered bars to close again and restaurants to reduce capacity to 50%.
Florida suspended alcohol consumption at bars statewide Friday due to non-compliance, the state’s governor said Friday.
“When people follow the guidelines we’ve not had any problems, you’ve not had any issues,” DeSantis said. “And so folks just follow the guidelines. We’re going to be in good shape.”
This issue is not limited to Florida and Texas. At least 85 people have tested positive for Covid-19 after visiting a pub in East Lansing, Michigan, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told CNN. Vail said she expects the number to rise even further.
90% or more of the country is susceptible
More than 2.4 million cases have been reported and at least 125,039 people have died of the virus in the United States. But the actual number of people infected is likely 10 times as high, officials said.
Antibody tests, which examine a person’s blood for signs the immune system responded to an infection, show more than 20 million people have been infected, most without knowing it, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But only between 5% and 8% of Americans have been infected with the virus, with the numbers varying by region. That means 90% or more have not been infected and are susceptible to infection, highlighting the need to act aggressively to combat rising infection rates, Redfield said.
Federal health officials expanded the list of who’s potentially most at risk of severe complications from Covid-19.
Mild obesity, moderate to severe asthma, pregnant women and those with cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the CDC said. So are those with conditions such as sickle cell disease, poorly controlled HIV infection, bone marrow transplants or an organ transplant.
The agency also has removed the specific age threshold, saying it’s not just those over age 65 who are at increased risk for severe illness.