NEW YORK (Reuters) – Residents of New York City, who gradually emerged from more than 100 days of coronavirus lockdown, celebrated a reduction in social distancing restrictions on Monday by shopping at reopened stores, dining at outdoor cafes and getting her first haircuts in months.
But even as New Yorkers, confined for weeks at the epicenter of the global pandemic, returned to normal, alarming spikes in coronavirus infection rates in other parts of the country worried public health experts.
Chief among the latest hotspots was Florida, one of the last states to impose home stay restrictions and one of the first to start lifting them, with nearly 3,000 new infections reported in the past 24 hours. Arizona, meanwhile, had nearly 2,200 additional cases since Sunday.
Both are prime examples of a troubling trend, primarily in the South and West, where the percentage of positive test results among all people tested, a measure called the positivity rate, has increased.
That’s a consequence of people venturing back into public spaces without wearing masks and not practicing safe social distancing, said Eric Toner, principal investigator for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Safety in Baltimore.
“Wherever people mingle, wherever people have person-to-person contact, there will be spread of the virus,” Toner told Reuters. “The question is not whether it will spread, that is a certainty. The question is how big that increase will be, and that is largely a function of what the government and individuals do. ”
Positivity rates above 5% are of particular concern to the World Health Organization, and the widely observed data from Johns Hopkins University shows a dozen states with average rates over the past week that exceeded that level and increased.
At least four averaged double-digit rates, according to Johns Hopkins: Arizona at 20%, Florida and Utah at 11%, and Texas at 10%. Texas also reported a record of more than 5,000 new cases in a single day. The same states have often experienced increasing hospitalizations.
I BEGIN TO RELAX
The states most affected previously in the pandemic, primarily in the Northeast, have generally been slower to resume trade and public life.
New York City, the nation’s most populous metropolitan area, was the last region to move to Phase 2 of the New York State economic reopening plan. Restaurants and bars began offering outdoor services, and many retailers began allowing customers to return to their stores. Hairdressers and beauty salons welcomed customers for the first time since mid-March, with some fully booked for the next two weeks.
Playgrounds also reopened Monday in New York City, which still accounts for more than a quarter of all lives in the United States. USA Lost by COVID-19, more than 120,000 to date, as the number of known infections across the country has risen above 2.3 million.
At the height of the outbreak, the bustling streets of New York City were largely deserted, echoing around the clock with the sound of ambulance sirens. New York State as a whole was losing 1,000 lives a day, hospitals were overwhelmed, and makeshift morgues full of dead.
On Monday, the state reported 10 additional deaths from the coronavirus. The usual traffic jams obstructed the city streets, and the sound of cars honking the horn brought a pleasant feeling of a return to the ordinary.
Customers who covered their faces lined up outside Clementine Bakery in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on Monday, and some enjoyed the warm summer morning sipping iced coffee at tables scattered on the sidewalk.
“It seems like my life is starting to go back to normal a little bit. It feels really good that I can sit down and have a coffee, ”said Arden Katine, 34, a teacher who lives nearby.
The outbreak in distant parts of the country worried New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said he was speaking to neighboring states about imposing restrictions on travelers from places like Arizona and Florida. Earlier this year, Florida ordered New Yorkers to quarantine for two weeks.
“It is more effective if we act as a regional collaboration, and I’m talking about setting guidelines so that we don’t have people coming from these other states,” Cuomo told MSNBC.
Even if growth in confirmed cases partly reflects transmission among younger people less likely to require hospitalization, those people are still contagious and could infect the elderly and others at high risk for serious illness due to health conditions underlying, experts warn.
New York and New Jersey, another major access point months ago, are now at record levels of infection rates with 1% or 2% of diagnostic tests testing positive.
On the west coast, the number of new cases hit a record of nearly 5,400 in California, the first to impose stay-at-home orders statewide. Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous county with 10 million residents, accounted for most of the latter figure with 2,588 new infections.
Reports by Maria Caspani in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reports by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Peter Szekely in New York and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Written by Lisa Shumaker and Steve Gorman; Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman Edition