Pandemic: States retreat as cases hit high

Texas, Florida hold off on reopening as virus flares

By Paul J. Weber and Michelle R. Smith | The Associated Press

AUSTIN, TEXAS » Texas and Florida reversed course and clamped down on bars again Friday as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections per day in the U.S. surged to a high of 40,000.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars closed, while Florida banned alcohol at such establishments. The two states joined the small but growing list of those that are either backtracking or putting any further reopenings of their economies on hold because of a comeback by the virus, mostly in the South and West.

Health experts have said disturbingly large numbers of cases are being seen among young people who are going out again, often without wearing masks or observing other social distancing rules.

“It is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said.

Abbott had pursued one of the most aggressive reopening schedules of any governor. The Republican not only resisted calls to order the wearing of masks but also refused until last week to let local governments take such measures.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday urged an agricultural southern county to reimpose stay-at-home orders amid a surge in positive coronavirus tests there, as officials in several counties also expressed concern over rising positive test rates and hospitalizations.

Newsom said that Imperial County leaders would be permitted to decide on how to proceed, but that if they don’t agree to act, “I am committed to intervening.”

The county, with a population of 175,000 people on the Mexican border, has been the slowest in the state to reopen amid continued high positive rates, which the state health director said have averaged 23% in the past week, compared with 5.7% statewide.

Stocks fell sharply on Wall Street again over the surging case numbers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 730 points, or nearly 3%.

Texas reported more than 17,000 new cases in the past three days, with a record high of nearly 6,000 on Thursday. In Florida, under GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, the agency that regulates bars acted after the daily number of new cases neared 9,000, almost doubling the record set just two days earlier.

Colleen Corbett, a 30-year-old bartender at two places in Tampa, Florida, said that she was disappointed and worried about being unemployed again, but that the restrictions are the right move. Most customers, she said, were not wearing masks.

“It was like they forgot there was a pandemic or just stopped caring,” she said.

Several of the hardest-hit states, including Arizona and Arkansas, have Republican governors who have resisted mask-wearing requirements and have largely echoed President Donald Trump’s desire to reopen the economy quickly amid warnings the virus could come storming back.

The White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, held its first briefing in nearly two months, and Pence gave assurances that the U.S. is “in a much better place” than it was two months ago.

He said the country has more medical supplies on hand, a smaller share of patients are being hospitalized, and the number of deaths is much lower than it was in the spring.

The count of new confirmed infections, provided by Johns Hopkins University, eclipsed the previous high of 36,400, set on April 24, during one of the deadliest stretches. Newly reported cases per day have risen on average about 60% over the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis.

While the rise partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the scourge is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher percentages of tests coming back positive for the virus.

At the task force briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, urged people to mind their responsibility to others: “A risk for you is not just isolated to you.”

Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of around 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level, because of advances in treatment and prevention and because younger adults are more likely than older ones to survive.

The virus is blamed for about 125,000 deaths and 2.4 million confirmed infections nationwide, by Johns Hopkins’ count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives, according to Johns Hopkins.

Louisiana reported its second one-day spike of more than 1,300 cases this week. The increasing number led Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards this week to suspend further easing of restrictions. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did the same in Arizona, which has been seeing more than 3,000 cases a day. And Nevada’s Democratic governor ordered the wearing of face masks in Las Vegas casinos and other public places.

In addition to closing bars again, Abbott scaled back restaurant capacity in Texas, shut down rafting operations and said any outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people will need approval from the local government. But some critics said he moved too fast to reopen, and too slowly to respond to the spike in infections.

“The doctors told us at the time, and told anyone who would listen, this will be a disaster. And it has been,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat who is the county’s top official. “Once again, the governor is slow to act. He is now being forced to do the things that we’ve been demanding that he do for the last month and a half.”

In California, officials in two San Francisco Bay Area counties also expressed alarm over the data. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she was “temporarily delaying” plans to reopen barber shops, tattoo parlors, outdoor bars and nail salons on Monday.

Contra Costa County, a sprawling East San Francisco Bay Area county, said it would decide Monday whether to halt its reopening as the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals has increased 42% in the past week and younger people are increasingly testing positive.

“There is concern that these increases may lead to a surge in very ill people that could overwhelm the local healthcare system,” county officials said in a statement.

Breed noted the city reported 103 additional positive cases overnight.

“I know people are anxious to reopen — I am too. But we can’t jeopardize the progress we’ve made,” she wrote on social media.

The Imperial Valley, which provides many of the vegetables in U.S. supermarkets in the winter, lies across the border from Mexicali, a sprawling industrial city of 1 million people that has enormous influence on its economy and culture.

Newsom said that statewide there were small increases in the percentages of people hospitalized and in ICUs.

In Florida, DeSantis has been lifting restrictions more slowly than a task force recommended, but he has allowed theme parks to reopen, encouraged professional sports to come to Florida and pushed for the GOP convention to be held in the Sunshine State.

In a reversal of fortune, New York said it is offering equipment and other help to Arizona, Texas and Florida, noting that other states came to New York’s aid when it was in the throes of the deadliest outbreak in the nation this spring.

“We will never forget that graciousness, and we will repay it any way we can,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Elsewhere around the world, China moved closer to containing a fresh outbreak in Beijing. Another record daily increase in India pushed the caseload in the world’s second most populous nation toward half a million.

And other countries with big populations like Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico grappled with large numbers of infections and strained health care systems.

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  • To Country: United States
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  • Posted On: 6/27/2020 8:45:21 AM
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