Coronavirus hospitalisations and caseloads hit new highs in more than a half-dozen states as signs of the virus’ resurgence mounted, with newly confirmed infections nationwide back near their peak level of two months ago.
After trending downward for six weeks, the US caseload has been growing again for more than a week, particularly in southern and western states. Some 34,700 new cases were reported nationwide Tuesday, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number was higher than any other day except April 9 and the record-setting date of April 24, when 36,400 cases were logged.
While new cases have been declining steadily in early US hot spots, such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day case records Tuesday, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas. Some of them also broke hospitalisation records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.
The US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, told Congress that the next few weeks are critical to tamping down the surge and that people should avoid crowds or at least wear masks in them.
Cases are climbing rapidly among young adults in a number of states where bars, stores and restaurants have reopened – a disturbing generational shift that not only puts them in greater peril than many realise, but poses an even bigger danger to older people who cross their paths.
In Oxford, Mississippi, recent fraternity parties set off outbreaks. In Oklahoma City, church activities, fitness classes, weddings and funerals seeded infections among people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
In Iowa college towns, surges followed the reopening of bars. A cluster of hangouts near Louisiana State University led to at least 100 customers and employees testing positive. In East Lansing, Michigan, an outbreak tied to a brewpub spread to 25 people aged 18 to 23.
In these states, and in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, young people have started going out again, many without masks, in what health experts viewed as irresponsible behaviour.
“The virus hasn’t changed. We have changed our behaviours,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Younger people are more likely to be out and taking a risk.”
In late March and April, that was not the case – the highest positive rates were in people over 65. For the past month, roughly 7 percent of tests done on 18-to-49-year-olds nationwide have come back positive. That is about 2 percentage points above older groups of adults.
Authorities worry there could be increased infection among the elderly due to contact with family members.
“People between the ages 18 and 50 don’t live in some sort of a bubble,” said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt.
“They are the children and grandchildren of vulnerable people. They may be standing next to you at a wedding. They might be serving you a meal in a restaurant.”
In Florida, young people aged 15 to 34 now make up 31 percent of all cases, up from 25 percent in early June. Last week, more than 8,000 new cases were reported in that age group, compared with about 2,000 among people 55 to 64 years old. And experts say the phenomenon cannot be explained away as simply the result of more testing.
Amid the surge, some Florida cities and counties are requiring people to wear masks before entering businesses. An Orlando bar popular with University of Central Florida students had its liquor licence suspended after more than 40 people who went there upon its reopening tested positive.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned other bars they could lose their licences if they do not follow social distancing guidelines.
“If you go in, and it’s Dance Party USA, dancing up to the rafters … there’s no tolerance for that,” he said.