Florida and other states across the Sunbelt are thinning out the deck chairs, turning over the barstools and rushing to line up more hospital beds amid a startling surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
With newly reported infections running at around 40,000 a day in the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned today that the number could rocket to 100,000 if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.
Over the past few days, states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have reversed course, closing or otherwise clamping down on bars, shutting beaches, rolling back restaurant capacity, putting limits on crowds at pools, or taking other steps to curb a scourge that may be thriving because of such factors as air conditioning and resistance to wearing masks.
“Any time you have these reopenings, you’re depending on people to do the right things, to follow the rules. I think that’s where the weak spots come in,” said Dr Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist. She warned that things are likely to get worse before they get better.
New confirmed cases in Florida have spiked over the past week, especially in younger people, who may be more likely to survive Covid-19 but can spread it to the Sunshine State’s many vulnerable older residents.
The state today reported more than 6000 new cases. More than 8000 were recorded on each of three days late last week. Deaths have climbed past 3500. Floridians ages 15 to 34 now make up 31 per cent of all cases, up from 25 per cent in early June. Last week, more than 8000 new cases were reported in that age group, compared with about 2000 among people 55 to 64 years old.
Hospital intensive care units are starting to fill up in South Florida, with a steadily increasing number of patients requiring ventilators. Miami’s Baptist Hospital had only six of its 82 ICU beds available, officials said.
Hard-hit Arizona called on hospitals to increase their number of beds for a surge of patients and to fully staff their facilities. Republican Governor Doug Ducey shut down bars, movie theaters and gyms and banned groups larger than 10 at swimming pools.
Air conditioning could be a factor in hot-weather states where new cases have been spiking, because it recirculates air instead of bringing it in fresh from outside, said Dr Kristin Englund, an infectious-disease physician at Cleveland Clinic.
“I definitely think the air conditioning and the oppressive heat in the South is going to play a role in this,” she said.
The coronavirus has been blamed for over a half-million deaths worldwide, including about 130,000 in the US, where the number of new cases per day has soared over the past month, primarily in the South and West.
“I would not be surprised if we go up to to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned,” Fauci said on Capitol Hill.
Van Johnson, mayor of the tourism-dependent city of Savannah, Georgia, population 145,000, announced he is requiring the wearing of masks, with violators subject to US$500 fines.
Savannah becomes one of the first cities in Georgia to take such a step. Republican Governor Brian Kemp has largely prohibited local governments from imposing rules stricter than the state’s.
12% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country today, down from 31% in April.
— Jocelyn Kiley (@jocelynkiley) June 30, 2020
The new round of shutdowns around the country is likely to cause another spike in layoffs.
Elsewhere around the world, the European Continent decided to reopen to visitors from 14 countries — but not the US. The European Union also kept its ban in place for visitors from China and from countries such as Russia, Brazil and India where infections are running high.
“We have to remain vigilant and keep our most vulnerable safe,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel.
US President Donald Trump suspended the entry of most Europeans in March.
Americans make up a big share of Europe’s tourism industry, and summer is a key period. More than 15 million Americans travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.