America Locks Down From Atlantic to Pacific as Covid Rages
(Bloomberg) -- In a matter of days, America’s long effort to revive its virus-battered economy has been put on pause -- or thrown into reverse -- as new infections soar at the fastest pace since the pandemic’s earliest days.
California on Monday reinstituted bans on many indoor businesses, and its governor warned he may impose a curfew. Michigan has ordered a three-week partial shutdown, while states including Oregon, Washington and New Jersey tightened curbs. Even the governor of Iowa, long resistant to virus rules, issued a limited mask mandate Monday.
The new restrictions follow a rapid surge in cases -- with the country adding a million infections in the first 10 days of November alone -- that has led health officials to issue dire warnings about the prospect of uncontrollable outbreaks as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. In a call with governors on Monday, Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said the increase is showing no signs of a plateau and that nursing homes, in particular, are being hard-hit.
“The whole country is on fire,” said Ellie Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. “Since people can be infectious before they have symptoms, a lot of people right now are infectious and transmitting to people and don’t know it. We’re trying to get a grip on this large explosion.”
Vice President Mike Pence told governors during a video conference Monday that the government had 20,000 hospital beds available around the country to handle patients, and that states had 13,000 more, according to a summary provided by Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s office. About 149,000 new cases were reported that day, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
The nation’s average new-case count for the past seven days has jumped 37%, according to Johns Hopkins University data, the fastest at any point in the U.S. since late March. Pennsylvania has seen a 14% jump in total cases, while Ohio’s have surged 19%, Washington state’s climbed 11% and Illinois’s are up 18%. Michigan’s cases have increased 20%, the most since April.
And in California, the number of new cases spotted each day surged more than 51% during the first week of November, according to the state -- faster than the 39% increase it endured during its last coronavirus wave in June.
“The rate of increase is simply without precedent in California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday during a briefing. “Every age group, every demographic -- racial, ethnic -- in every part of this state, we are seeing case rates increase.”
The state, home to about 40 million residents, enacted tight restrictions on counties totaling 94% of its population, including shutting indoor dining, gyms, places of worship and theaters.
On the White House task force call with governors, Birx said many states hit by the summer’s coronavirus surge saw case counts level off after 30 days, but that hasn’t happened this time. Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said infections have sharply increased among nursing-home patients since October, and controlling spread at the facilities is a priority, according to the summary.
Infections aren’t isolated to a few geographic regions, as they were in earlier stages of the pandemic. They are rising simultaneously in urban and rural areas alike, in the Midwest and the South, as well as the east and west coasts.
“This thing is spreading like wildfire all across the country,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said during a Monday news conference. He said he would issue new restrictions on Wednesday if infection rates don’t drop, although he didn’t say what they would be. “I don’t want to ever see a refrigeration truck coming into the state because we need it for our lost loved ones,” Beshear said.
Businesses that have already endured lockdowns and restrictions on how they operate face the prospect of even more disruption.
Barry Gutin, a co-founder of Cuba Libre, a Philadelphia restaurant that will mark 20 years in December, said losses already were piling up with capacity restricted to 50%. On Monday, the city said it would ban indoor dining, as well as close performance spaces, gyms and libraries. Gutin called it “another gut punch which will make it much more difficult.”
His company, GuestCounts Hospitality, with restaurants in Orlando, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C., received paycheck-protection loans, and staff benefited from unemployment funds with $600-a-week federal supplements. That’s gone now, he said, and “it’s going to take governmental action” to keep the industry afloat.
“Right now we’re living on borrowings and my partner’s and my savings,” Gutin said. “Our job is to find ways to lose less money.”
In New York, bars and restaurants with state liquor licenses now must close at 10 p.m., along with gyms, and indoor gatherings must be limited to 10 people. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday he will enact more restrictions if cases continue to rise. He has already shut schools and nonessential businesses in several hot spots.
In New York City, officials are prepared to close schools if its citywide rate of positive tests reaches a seven-day average of 3%. As of Monday, it stood at 2.77%.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy cut the state’s indoor gathering limit to 10 people from 25 starting Tuesday, and outdoor gatherings to 150 from 500 starting Nov. 23. In recent days, the state has had its first- and second-highest daily counts since the outbreak’s first wave hit it in March.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan warned that closing local casinos would have a major impact, because they account for a large chunk of the city’s revenue. But he said he would enforce the state’s new restrictions regardless.
“The budget is not my first concern right now,” Duggan said at a news conference Monday. “We had 50 to 60 people per day die in April. Right now I just want to protect the people of the city of Detroit. We’ll deal with the budget later.”
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