As States Reopen, Some See COVID Surges
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The United States has suffered more COVID-19 deaths than any other country and, this week, surpassed 2 million infections. This grim milestone comes as more and more states lift regulations, reopen businesses, and attempt to return to normal.
The State of Reopening
By mid-May, all 50 states had lifted at least some of their social distancing regulations. As of this week, there are just three statewide stay-at-home orders still in place. Even New York City — the global epicenter of the virus — entered the first stages of reopening this month.
Some states, counties, and businesses have been more liberal in their definition of “reopen” than others. Throughout Memorial Day Weekend, several photos of large, poorly-distanced groups made the rounds on social media. These images were met with both scorn and new worries that COVID-19 infections could soar.
New Surges in COVID-19
Memorial Day weekend has become an important benchmark for determining the impact of hasty reopening and insufficient social distancing. 9 states have seen hospitalizations surge since the holiday and more than a dozen are recording their highest average of new cases yet.
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In Texas, hospitalizations are up 36% and healthcare workers believe loosened regulations are to blame. Officials from Austin Public Health suggest that business reopenings, Memorial Day festivities, and all-around poor social distancing have reignited the crisis. Dr. Mark Escott, the organization’s interim director, warns about “an increase in risk-taking behavior.” “People are less cautious,” he says, “they’re not wearing masks as much; they’re not social distancing as much.”
In addition to larger and more frequent social gatherings, the last few weeks have seen protests against systemic racism and police brutality. Emerging in every state, these protests have become a daily reality in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. Fears have emerged that — even with masks — these events could become a breeding ground for infection. Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco, suggests that we should have an answer very soon. He also notes that Minnesota and Washington D.C. have seen a steady decline in cases despite experiencing more than two weeks of large protests.
It’s worth remembering that warnings about a second surge of COVID-19 infections are not a new phenomenon. As early as April, public health experts cautioned that the fall and winter months could prove even more deadly than the last several months have. These warnings came amid the first wave of reopenings and shortly after days of anti-quarantine protests. While ideologically much different, both groups of protests introduced similar concerns about the safety of reopening and the future spread of COVID-19.
Any major change in infection rates is sure to become a popular political talking point. Democrats have criticized President Trump for his response to the virus since well before it reached pandemic status. Trump, for his part, will resume large campaign rallies on June 20th. Both the virus and the recent protests should get plenty of airtime.
Readers in every state are encouraged to continue following the advice of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.