Public Health Officials Urge Caution as 14 States Report Surge in Covid-19 Infections After Reopening

A person gets a swab test for coronavirus at a free pop-up testing location, for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, in Boston's Roxbury on June 10, 2020. (Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Public Health Officials Urge Caution as 14 States Report Surge in Covid-19 Infections After Reopening

Several of the states reporting a rise in cases will soon host President Donald Trump's campaign rallies, where social distancing is not expected to be enforced.

Public health experts cautioned on Wednesday that all signs point to the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread this summer, especially in certain parts of the U.S., after 14 states showed spikes in Covid-19 cases.

Arizona has reported one of the most alarming increases in cases this week, about a month after the state's stay-at-home order expired. Two weeks after the state began reopening--just after the incubation period for Covid-19 passed--the Washington Post reported, the state began seeing a significant uptick in daily cases.

In late May, Arizona reported about 200 new cases per day. This week, officials have seen about 1,400 new infections per day. Hospitalizations and deaths have also increased.

"Every state should watch and pick up these lessons," tweeted former Obama administration healthcare official Andy Slavitt, referencing the spike in cases in the state last week.

The spike in certain states also comes as protests against police brutality have taken place in cities and communities nationwide over the last two weeks. While it's unclear what the impact of those demonstrations will be in terms of the spread of the disease, the fact that so many people have been congregating in close proximity--sometimes under violent or chaotic assault by police using tear gas and other measures--has public health experts concerned.

ABC Newsreported Thursday that Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah have also seen a rise in the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.

In Arkansas, hospitals are taking in 88% more Covid-19 patients now than they were before Memorial Day, and in South Carolina, 12 counties have reached 75% capacity at their hospitals.

But state officials who pushed to reopen early are reticent to revisit stay-at-home orders even if their healthcare systems become overwhelmed.

"Shutting down is not the answer," South Carolina's Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday. "People have to be able to go and work for a living."

"Worse times are ahead. The preponderance of evidence indicates community transmission is increasing."
--Joe Gerald, University of Arizona

The same day, the state's top epidemiologist, Linda Bell, told reporters, "I am more concerned about Covid-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before."

Montana, Hawaii, and Alaska have also reported infection increases in the past two weeks, but their overall case numbers remain low.

Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease expert at the University of Arizona, said people in states with rising case numbers may have largely abandoned precautions pushed by public health officials, as their state leaders reopened the economy.

"Many people equate reopening with being safe," Ernst toldABC News. "While there is certainly some uptake of masks and physical distancing, it is not ubiquitous."

Some of the hardest-hit states are ones that President Donald Trump plans to visit in the coming weeks as he begins holding his campaign rallies again. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump's campaign is "unlikely to put into place any social distancing measures for rally attendees, or require them to wear masks" as the president visits Arizona, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina, hoping to draw large crowds.

"Worse times are ahead," Joe Gerald, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona, toldThe Post. "The preponderance of evidence indicates community transmission is increasing."

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