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Coronavirus cases are rising across the US, some regional hospitals are filling up and some of America’s most populous places are seeing record deaths as the pandemic surges.
At the same time, as some states reverse reopening plans, public health interventions such as encouraging people to wear public face coverings and closing schools have become increasingly politicized and divisive.
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Sunbelt states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas have been especially hard-hit after pushing to reopen their economies earlier in the pandemic. Cases a day have nearly doubled in Florida, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 40 hospitals across the state maxed out their intensive care unit capacity, NBC News reported.
“We’re putting ourselves at risk and other people aren’t willing to do anything and in fact go the other way and be aggressive to promote the disease,” Dr Andrew Pastewski, intensive care unit medical director at Jackson South medical center in Miami, told Reuters. Pastewski himself was diagnosed with Covid-19. “It’s just disheartening,” he said.
In Texas, the number of new cases a day doubled in two weeks, to more than 9,100 a day. Texas and California, the two most populous states, both reported record deaths on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
In Texas, bars were closed and restaurants forced to further reduce capacity. Arizona cut restaurant capacity in half. Health officials in New Mexico, which bordered both states, halted indoor restaurant service and closed famed desert parks to out-of-towners. Florida bars will shut their doors a second time.
Many of the same states are now facing immediate questions about how and whether to reopen school buildings. Students in many sunbelt states return to classes in early to mid-August. The Trump administration ratcheted up the pressure this week by threatening the funding of schools which remain closed.
“We’re truly not ready,” Marcia Andrews, a Palm Beach county, Florida, school board member, told the Palm Beach Post. “We’re not ready from a health standpoint. And we’re not ready from a planning standpoint.” The district, where Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is located, will hold entirely virtual classes this fall.
But with cases rising in 41 states, even less densely populated areas are now seeing hospitals fill up, with no end in sight.
“Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients,” Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi health officer, said at a press conference on Thursday, according to the Mississippi Free Press. He said the state’s five largest hospitals were filling up, and he and other health officials begged the public to wear masks.
“Many days, we have more patients than we have rooms,” said Dr LouAnn Woodward, vice-chancellor of the University of Mississippi medical center.
The Trump administration has largely sought to ignore the pandemic. On Friday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, told the Financial Times he had not directly briefed the president in two months.
“You have a random virus jump species from an animal to a human that is spectacularly efficient in spreading from human to human, and has a high degree, relatively speaking, of morbidity and mortality,” Fauci told the FT. “We are living in the perfect storm right now.”
Seeking the large, admiring crowds of the 2016 election, Trump had planned to hold a rally at an airplane hangar in New Hampshire this weekend, before it was cancelled due to bad weather. The state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, defended the president’s right to have the rally, but said he would not attend.
“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people,” Sununu said citing health concerns this week, according to CNN. “I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people.”
Meanwhile, local health officials believe Trump’s last rally, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, probably spread Covid-19 despite its depressed attendance. The campaign has expected an overflow crowd from the 19,000-seat arena. About 6,200 people actually attended, according to the New York Times.
Whether the president’s plan is an effective re-election strategy remains to be seen. A new poll out Friday showed 67% of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, driven by a drop in independent support and even waning confidence from Republicans.