Local Coronavirus Infection Spikes Muddle States’ Plans to Reopen

June 18, 2020 by Reece Nations
Berto Cortez, a CVS pharmacy technician, shows how COVID-19 tests are processed in a testing area set up by CVS at St. Vincent de Paul medical clinic, Monday, June 15, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As nationwide coronavirus deaths continue to trend downward, a surge of new cases across a multitude of states is complicating plans to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen economies. 

Updated data from the Johns Hopkins University tracker indicates 10 states are averaging their highest seven-day increase in COVID-19 cases since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. 

Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas each experienced record-high averages for new cases. This revelation comes weeks after the Trump Administration released guidelines for lifting pandemic restrictions, which direct states only to begin lifting restrictions after new cases track downward for 14 days. 

Several states – including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Mississippi and Georgia among others – went ahead with plans to reopen their economies in early May despite not satisfying the criteria laid out in the federal guidelines, according to analysis from The New York Times. 

President Donald Trump’s phased-approach plan is nonbinding and implementable on a county-by-county or statewide basis at the discretion of the state’s governor. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced Tuesday his state would not be shutting down again after 2,783 new cases were observed in a 24-hour span. 

“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to go forward,” DeSantis said during a press conference. “We’re going to continue to protect the most vulnerable. We’re going to continue to advise particularly our elderly to maintain social distancing, avoid crowds.” 

Some of the recent spike in national coronavirus cases can reasonably be attributed to increased testing which can identify otherwise undetectable asymptomatic and mild cases. The increased number of hospitalizations nationwide tell another story.

Arizona’s statewide hospital capacity recently reached 83% and some intensive care units in Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, are at maximum capacity. Banner Health, a Phoenix-based hospital system, has had fully occupied ICUs since early June, according to local news outlet KJZZ

However, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, a Republican, has declined to pause the reopening of his state’s economy. Stopping short of a mandate that would require everyone to wear a mask, Ducey announced he would allow local governments the authority to require face-coverings in public should they decide to. 

“This has always been about saving lives, and it’s also about livelihoods in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We put the stay-at-home order in place so that we could prepare for what we’re going through right now.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data reported to the agency from state and territorial health departments from Jan. 22 through May 30 that indicated individuals with underlying health conditions died 12 times as often as otherwise healthy individuals infected with COVID-19. 

Additionally, the CDC warns people 65 years and older or who live in long-term care facilities are at highest risk for “severe illness” from novel coronavirus. However, for the first time in clinical trials a drug has been shown to increase the odds of survival in patients with severe lung damage. 

Dexamethasone, an inexpensive and widely-available steroid, reduced the risk of death for patients on ventilators by one-third and cut the risk of death for patients on oxygen by one-fifth in British clinical trial test results. Typically used to treat inflammation, the steroid was administered in a tablet, liquid or intravenously during the trials.

Nine Texas mayors in a letter to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott requested the authority to mandate wearing face-coverings in public settings “where physical distancing cannot be practiced.” Abbott has previously insisted there is no need to scale back reopening bars, restaurants and other businesses to 50% capacity even as a record-breaking number of newly hospitalized patients was reported. 

“We think you would agree that a healthy economy starts with healthy people,” the letter states. “If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide, we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced.” 

Although Abbott has verbally encouraged Texans to wear face-coverings, one of his executive orders forbids local governments from imposing penalties or fines on individuals who disregard this advice. As a growing number of studies suggest face masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus, some local leaders have taken action to require them in public. 

Mayor Steven Reed of Montgomery, Alabama, issued his own executive order Wednesday requiring people in public to wear masks or face-coverings within the city. The order allows for exceptions to be made if a person is within their vehicle, residence or outdoors and away from other individuals. 

Reed’s order, which becomes effective June 19, imposes a $25 fine on anyone not compliant. 

Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Kate Brown announced June 11 she would be changing plans to reopen businesses in her state’s most populous county. Multnomah County had to postpone its application to move to the first phase of the state’s reopening plan which would have allowed restaurants and bars to open June 12th with safety provisions. 

“When we began reopening nearly a month ago, I was clear that COVID-19 case counts would rise,” Brown said in a press conference. “We now see that happening in several parts of the state, both urban areas and rural communities. The noticeable increase in COVID-19 infections in Oregon over the past week is cause for concern. This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light.’”

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