US virus cases near record high as governors begin to back down

NEW YORK – The coronavirus crisis deepened in Arizona on Thursday, and the Texas governor began to back down after making one of the most aggressive efforts in the nation to reopen as the daily number of confirmed cases in the US during the dark days of late April.

While widely expanded tests probably explain part of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is coming back. Daily deaths, hospitalizations, and the percentage of tests that yield positive results have also increased in recent weeks in some parts of the country, mainly in the south and west.

In Arizona, 23% of tests conducted in the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Mississippi saw its daily count of new cases hit record levels twice this week.

“It’s not a joke. Really bad things are going to happen,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi health officer.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state was one of the first to reopen, has postponed lifting more restrictions and re-imposed the ban on elective surgeries in some places to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide doubled in two weeks. The Nevada governor ordered to wear face masks in public, including Las Vegas casinos.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go back and close business,” said Abbott.

The United States reported 34,500 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, slightly less than the day before, but still close to the peak of 36,400 reached on April 24, according to a count maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The daily average has increased by more than 50% in the past two weeks, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

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Whether the increase in cases translates into an equally serious increase in deaths across the United States will depend on a number of factors, experts say, most importantly, whether government officials make the right decisions. Deaths per day across the country are around 600 after peaking at around 2,200 in mid-April.

“It is possible, if we play our cards poorly and make many mistakes, to return to that level. But if we are smart, there is no reason to reach 2,200 deaths per day,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Institute of Global Health at Harvard.

The nation’s number of daily deaths has actually declined markedly in recent weeks, even as cases increased, a phenomenon experts say may reflect the arrival of treatments, better efforts to prevent infections in nursing homes, and an increasing proportion of cases among younger people, who are more likely than their elders to survive a fight with COVID-19.

“This is still serious,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but “we are in a different situation today than in March or April.”

Several states established single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Oklahoma. Florida reported more than 5,000 new cases for the second consecutive day.

Mississippi’s Dobbs blamed the failure to wear masks and observe other practices of social estrangement.

“I’m afraid it will take some kind of catastrophe for people to pay attention,” he said. “We are giving away those profits so hard fought for silly things.”

Tom Rohlk, a 62-year-old grocery store worker in Overland Park, Kansas, complained that young people sometimes act like they don’t care: “It seems like it’s time to party.”

The United States has greatly increased testing in recent months, and is now presumably finding many less serious cases that would not have been previously detected in the outbreak, when testing was limited and often focused on sicker people.

But there are other, clearer warning signs, including an increasing number of deaths per day in states like Arizona and Alabama.

The number of confirmed infections, in itself, is a poor measure of the outbreak. CDC officials, based on blood tests, estimated Thursday that 20 million Americans have been infected. That’s about 6% percent of the population and about 10 times the 2.3 million confirmed cases.

Officials have long known that many cases have been lost due to lack of evidence and lack of symptoms in some infected people.

Worldwide, more than 9.5 million people have been confirmed infected, and nearly half a million have died, including more than 122,000 in the U.S., the highest number in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins count.

“Globally, it is still getting worse,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

While some states are imposing new restrictions or pausing to reopen, some companies are also backing down. Disney delayed its reopening in mid-July of Disneyland.

As politicians try to strike a balance between public health and the economy, the government reported that the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week decreased slightly to 1.48 million, indicating that layoffs are declining, but continue being painfully tall.

Elsewhere in the world, the Eiffel Tower in Paris reopened to visitors after its longest closure in peacetime – 104 days.

With hospitals overwhelmed in New Delhi, Indian troops provided care in railway carriages converted into medical wards.

And in China, where the virus first appeared late last year, an outbreak in Beijing appeared to have been under control.


Jennifer Peltz and Carla K. Johnson of the Associated Press wrote this story. Johnson reported from Washington state. Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.


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