ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10/CNN) — With more than 2,000 patients hospitalized and hundreds in ICUs, “Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic,” one infectious disease expert from Jackson Health System said Monday, comparing the South Florida metropolitan area to the city where the pandemic originated.
“What we were seeing in Wuhan — six months ago, five months ago — now we are there,” Lilian Abbo, with the Jackson Health System said during a press conference hosted by the Miami-Dade County mayor.
We must all continue to do our part to protect Florida’s most vulnerable and avoid the 3 Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. Safeguarding the elderly and those with underlying health conditions will continue to be our top priority. pic.twitter.com/2GiAJHq6r1
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) July 14, 2020
The Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, went into a 76-day lockdown in late January after a deadly outbreak infected and killed thousands. The first known cases of the virus were first detected in the city in December. By mid-April, officials reported more than 50,000 infections. Miami-Dade County has recorded more than 64,000 infections so far, according to state data.
“We need your help as media communicators to help the community understand that we’re just not repeating the same thing over and over just to give you trouble, we really need your help,” Abbo said, directing the comments to media.
The plea echos the requests from some other leaders in the state and across the country who have seen new cases spike in the past weeks as Americans flocked back outside following weeks-long lockdowns. When states began lifting restrictions, images quickly emerged of pool parties, packed beaches, reopened bars and holiday celebrations where social distancing and face masks were often neglected. Health officials warned then of what they’re now reporting: clusters that are often traced back to Americans who didn’t heed to reopening guidelines weeks ago.
More than 3.3 million people have now tested positive nationwide — but the true number of infections could be much higher, experts have said, as at least 40% of those who contract the virus show no symptoms, according to a new estimate by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With no way to control the rapid spread of the virus and with thousands possibly infecting others unknowingly, both local and state officials have been forced to rethink more restrictions and in some cases, possibly a second round of lockdowns.
In Houston, where hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients and hitting ICU capacity, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday he proposed a two-week shutdown to the governor following a surge of cases.
“I do think we are going to need to shut down for a period of time. I am proposing two weeks, or at the very minimum, to return to phase one,” Turner said. “We need to reset, especially in light of the fact that next month, you know, kids, we are talking about returning to school.”
In Atlanta, the mayor also tried to revert the city to the first phase of reopening — where residents are ordered to stay at home except for essential trips. That decision was slammed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who said it was “legally unenforceable.”
According to WSB radio, many school systems in the Atlanta area are delaying their school year start and preparing for a mix of virtual and in-person schooling. Some are giving parents the option of which they prefer.
More than half of US states have now halted or rolled back their reopening plans in hopes of preventing further spread. The end of the pandemic is nowhere near in sight, the country’s leading infectious disease expert said Monday, but that doesn’t have to mean a new wave of shutdowns — as long as communities follow the rules.
“You don’t necessarily need to shut down again, but pull back a bit. And then, proceed in a very prudent way, observing the guidelines of going from step to step,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a webinar with the Stanford School of Medicine on Monday.
States reimpose restrictions
Amid an uptick in cases, at least three states announced restrictions Monday, including California, New Mexico and Oregon.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said indoor activities at restaurants, bars, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, and museums should shut down.
The 30 counties that are on the state’s watch list will need to close indoor operations for fitness centers, places of worship, offices for non-critical sectors, personal care services, hair salons and barbershops and malls, the governor said.
In New Mexico, which has recorded at least 20% of its total infections in the past two weeks, an order from the governor puts in place restrictions on indoor seating at restaurants and breweries once again in response to more cases.
Restaurants and breweries can seat people outside at 50% capacity and may continue to operate take out and delivery services. The new orders also tighten restrictions on gyms and other businesses including tattoo parlors and salons.
“We knew when we began our methodical reopening process that we would be introducing risk, and to counter that risk we would all have to amend our behavior and take every individual precaution to begin to live in a COVID-positive world and sustain that process,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, our state’s dramatically rising case numbers reflect that those behavior modifications and precautions have either not been taken seriously or taken up by enough people.”
And Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also took new measures Monday, expanding face covering requirements and prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. “Either people will adhere to this requirement and be a positive force for stopping Covid-19, or I will be forced to take more restrictive measures,” the governor said.
Expert: Wear masks or watch economy go ‘to hell’
As cases climb, experts are also dialing up their calls for Americans to take precautions — and wear face masks. But more than two dozen states don’t have a statewide mask mandate.
“You have a choice,” Dr. George Rutherford, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said. “You can be locked down as the economy goes to hell, or you can wear a mask.”
The stern warning is one of many repeated by experts in recent months as communities emerged from lockdowns but have now imposed new restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
In Texas, which pushed for one of the most aggressive reopenings, Gov. Greg Abbott warned residents “the worst is yet to come.” Abbott has issued an executive order requiring residents in counties with 20 or more active coronavirus cases to wear face coverings in public.
“The only way that we can keep businesses open the only way that we can have people continue to have a job to pay their bills is for everybody to adopt this practice of wearing a face mask,” he told CNN affiliate KLBK. “Doctors have proven that this is a safe way to engage in commerce while also sowing this road of the coronavirus.”
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield called masks the “most powerful weapon” against infections and appealed to Americans to “fully embrace the use of face coverings when they’re in public.” That’s following a call from US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams who said the country could begin turning cases around in as little as two weeks’ time with the help of masks. President Donald Trump also made his first appearance in front of the press with a face mask on over the weekend, after refusing to wear one in public for months.
Delays in testing results
The surging US cases are also causing a delay in test results from the country’s laboratories, according to Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of diagnostic services.
“Soaring demand” for a Covid-19 molecular test is “slowing the time” it takes the company to provide test results even after rapidly scaling up its capacity, Quest said Monday.
The company can perform up to 125,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day, almost double its capacity two months ago and expects to have the capacity for 150,000 tests a day by the end of July.
But despite the increasing capacity, Quest said it’s taking up to a day to process test results for priority cases, including hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.
In all other cases, those test results take an average of seven or more days.
There are multiple challenges to ramping up testing even further, the company said, adding it can’t reduce turnaround time on results as long as cases are spiking.
More school districts announce they’re going virtual
As more states announce restrictions, education leaders have now also been forced to reconsider what the upcoming school semester will look like for students.
The President has already said he’s pressuring governors to reopen schools and Florida’s department of education said earlier this month it was requiring schools to reopen in August despite its surge of cases. On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he thinks parents “should have the option” of whether or not to send their kids back to school.
But as more teachers and administrators voice fiery oppositions to returning to school — worried both about their own and students’ safety — districts across the country are now announcing they’ll go virtual for the return to school, or at least give parents more options.
California’s two largest schools districts announced Monday students will continue learning remotely when classes start next month.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered options for partial in-person instruction in the fall. But the state’s governor said Monday in order for in-person class to be allowed, a region must be in Phase 4 of reopening, which New York City is not.
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