PITTSBURGH – After months of lockdown in which coronavirus outbreaks often focused on nursing homes, prisons, and meat-packing plants, the nation is entering a new and uncertain phase of the pandemic. New COVID-19 groups have been found at a Pentecostal church in Oregon, a strip club in Wisconsin, and everywhere imaginable in between.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at least 100 people tested positive for the virus after visiting bars in the Tigerland nightlife district, popular with Louisiana State University students.
At a Christian summer camp near Colorado Springs, at least 11 employees got sick just before the season opened, prompting the camp to cancel overnight stays for the first time in 63 years.
And in Las Vegas, just a few weeks after the casinos reopened, a handful of casino, restaurant, and hotel employees tested positive, and frightened workers on Monday begged guests to wear masks at a video news conference. .
The new emerging clusters, ranging in size from a handful of cases to hundreds and have emerged in large cities and small towns, reflect the unpredictable course of the coronavirus. They also highlight risks that experts say are likely to persist as states try to reopen economies and Americans return to the public without a vaccine.
New known virus cases rose Monday in 23 states as prospects worsened across much of the nation’s south and west. Coronavirus hospitalizations reached their highest levels so far in the pandemic in Arizona and Texas, and Missouri reported its highest single-day case totals over the weekend.
Although much of the Northeast and Midwest continued to see improvements, there were signs of a new spread in Ohio, where case numbers began to rise after weeks of improvement, and in Pennsylvania, where several counties have had a number worrying about cases.
“This is exactly what most people would expect when they place stay-at-home orders and isolation orders,” said Rebecca Christofferson, an infectious disease expert at Louisiana State University, who said reopening along with fatigue Because of social distancing, many Americans were creating new types of virus groups.
“All those things combined only make it a complex problem: human behavior, contact and viruses,” he said. “You put it all in a big pot, and boom!”
It is somehow a return to the earliest days of the virus in the United States, when the coronavirus was quietly brewing, and when occasions like funerals, choir practices, and birthday parties turned into events that led to widespread transmission.
Those kinds of group meetings were always risky, but they became much less common during a period of months when much of the country was closed. Returning to public life has brought those opportunities back, as more and more people shop, dine, visit family and friends, and even hug each other again.
“It’s really just about contact,” said Christofferson.
The virus is now hitting places that had once escaped the worst of the pandemic, reflecting how a disease that initially devastated urban centers like New York City has become widespread. Known cases have now been on the rise near places like McAllen, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; and Nogales, Arizona.
In Union County, Oregon, a rural community of 27,000 residents about four hours from Portland, authorities had recorded only eight cases of the virus in early June. By June 20, the count had increased to more than 250. Most have been linked to an outbreak at a local church, the Pentecostal Lighthouse Church.
“It was a little surprising, because a lot of people for a long time followed those who stayed home,” said Paul Anderes, Union County Commissioner.
Houses of worship, once closed by order of governors in many states, are now emerging as sources for large groups. Outbreaks have been reported in churches in states like Alabama, Kansas and West Virginia.
Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Republican, said six outbreaks had been linked to churches in the state, including three that were still active as of last week. He said he had no plans to close churches, describing them as “the most sacred ground”, but also acknowledged that they represented significant danger.
“The reality is really simple,” he said. When parishioners don’t stick to wearing masks or sitting on any other bench, he said, “We’re asking for it.”
Other vectors for the virus have emerged rapidly in the weeks after many states reopened businesses. At least four cases of the virus were linked to the Cruisin ‘Chubbys Gentlemen’s Club in the Wisconsin Dells, and several cases were related to fraternity parties in Oxford, Mississippi.
In Las Vegas, a case of coronavirus was reported among workers at The LINQ Hotel + Experience on the Strip. Two more cases were identified among the employees of the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
“I am very, very scared,” said Diana Thomas, a guest room assistant at the Flamingo.
She said that most of the guests had not worn masks and that she was afraid to bring the coronavirus to her 21-year-old son with asthma.
“I am a single father,” said Thomas. “And for my son to get sick, no, that is unacceptable.”
Cases have been on the rise since early June, even after casinos reopened on June 4. In Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, the daily average of new cases has doubled in two weeks, from 124 to 250 on Sunday. Nevada reported its largest single-day increase in cases last week, with 452 cases.
The increase comes after officials took steps to reopen tourism safely in a state where many workers depend on the hotel industry, and a staggering 1 in 4 workers reported being unemployed in May. In recently reopened casinos, dealers and players are separated by clear plastic dividers, and the dice are sprayed with disinfectant after each roll.
“It’s great that tourists are coming back, but workers must be safe,” said Florence Lee, who works at MGM Grand casino. “Please wear masks and social distance for us.”
As more segments of the nation reopen, predicting where new groups will emerge has become complex. Public health experts closely watch group meetings, which threaten to become “super propagators” events, as well as in less understood circumstances, in which certain people appear to be more predisposed to transmit the virus.
“The characteristic of this virus, and this is what makes it so difficult to control, is that it does not necessarily have a uniform spread,” said Dr. Arnold S. Monto, professor of epidemiology at the University’s School of Public Health. from Michigan. . “It is erratic.”
As in the pandemic before, outbreaks continue to emerge in prisons, nursing homes and food processing facilities. More than 230 people were infected at a Dole vegetable packaging facility in Springfield, Ohio, and at least a dozen cases have been linked to an apple packaging facility in Oswego County, New York.
Public health officials in several states have identified coronavirus cases in more than 50 people who attended or worked on protests of police misconduct after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in late May. So far, no major outbreak has been directly related to those meetings.
Some of the newer clusters of cases have been linked to athletics, as student-athletes return to campus and professional teams hope to return to play. At least 23 soccer players at Clemson University have been infected, along with at least 10 athletes in the state of Iowa and at least five soccer players in the state of Texas. Several professional sports teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Lightning, have also reported cases.
New outbreaks in some cities have overwhelmed hospitals.
Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee warned over the weekend of “a desperate public health situation” in central Washington’s Yakima County, where coronavirus cases skyrocketed, hospitals reached capacity, and patients were flown to Seattle for medical attention.
It echoes an earlier stage of the virus, when Washington state was in crisis mode after reporting the country’s first known case of coronavirus in January and the country’s first major group at a nursing facility near Seattle in February.
After controlling for the initial outbreak, officials saw a resurgence in Yakima County, home to 250,000 people and more than 6,400 coronavirus infections. The situation has now become dire: the county has more cases than all of South Dakota, and the virus has become so widespread that many Yakima hospital employees are suspending work because they feel sick or quarantined.
“We are frankly at the breaking point,” said Inslee, who planned to require people in the county to start wearing face covers in public. “We don’t want to see people in parking lots who can’t get hospital care. And if we don’t act aggressively now, that’s what’s going to happen. “