With nearly 9.5 million coronavirus cases reported, the United States is adding new infections at an unprecedented rate.
The seven-day average for new cases hit record highs in 20 states spanning every region of the country Wednesday, with the largest increases in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and Iowa, according to data tracked by The Post. Three states — Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming — also reported their highest daily fatality counts.
“Now is the time to develop a testing strategy to maximize our ability to identify the silent epidemic of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote Wednesday on Twitter. The tweet drew incredulous responses, with many questioning why such a strategy had not been designed earlier.
Crowded prisons and jails continue to be among the main drivers of coronavirus outbreaks nationwide, and advocates have described New Jersey’s unique new policy as a “groundbreaking, game-changing moment” that could save lives. But some opponents have raised concerns about the impact of releasing thousands of people at once and suggested that newly released inmates risk spreading infection.
Across the Great Plains and the Midwest, surging caseloads have left many hospitals struggling to find space for coronavirus patients — or, crucially, to find qualified workers to take care of them. Dozens of Kansas hospitals told the Associated Press that they expect to face staffing shortages next week, while the Star Tribune reported that the number of nurses who have entered quarantine meant that only nine intensive-care beds were available in Minnesota’s Twin Cities as of Wednesday morning.
After Illinois recorded its second-highest number of new infections on Wednesday, the state’s top public health official warned of a potential hospital bed shortage in some areas, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We have had calls for assistance from the state for medical staff. We know of some hospitals that have already slowed down elective surgeries to have beds,” Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Wednesday.
In Oklahoma, where a record 1,026 coronavirus patients were being treated in hospitals Wednesday, doctors called for a statewide mask mandate and warned of an impending crisis. Already, covid-19 patients are being moved around the state as hospitals juggle available beds and staffing levels, Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks told KFOR.
“We’ve got to do something different,” Monks said. “The pathway we are on is unsustainable.”
The Dakotas continue to add more new coronavirus cases per capita than any other part of the country — and many areas of the world. One hospital in Rapid City, S.D., has been freeing up space by moving non-coronavirus patients who will be discharged soon to an unfinished addition that is still under construction, KELO reported. In North Dakota, only 12 intensive-care beds were available statewide by Wednesday morning, according to the Grand Forks Herald.
“We North Dakotans are in crisis,” Jeffrey Sather, chief of staff at Trinity Hospital in Minot, N.D., said Tuesday, according to the paper. “The general population doesn’t realize the struggles that health systems are going through unless you or your family is one of those patients getting transferred across the state … or laying on an ER gurney rather than a hospital bed for 24 hours or more.”
With both Europe and the United States witnessing a dramatic increase in infections, China is making its already stringent border restrictions even tougher. Starting Friday, travelers from the United States, France and Germany will have to take a blood test that looks for coronavirus antibodies, in addition to a nucleic acid test for the virus, Reuters reported.
The presence of antibodies can indicate that a covid-19 patient has recovered from the virus and is now immune, although there is no scientific consensus on how long that immunity lasts. In a statement criticizing the move this week, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said that it was unclear “why a positive antibody test result would disqualify returnees, as many of those with antibodies had the virus months ago and present no significantly greater risk than those without antibodies.”
The chamber also noted that in many countries, antibody tests are not widely available and that front-line workers are being given priority. Similarly, China requires the results from the nucleic acid test to be turned around within 48 hours, which is not possible in many parts of the world.
Meanwhile, Greece followed in the footsteps of other European countries, including Ireland, France and Belgium, in announcing a three-week national lockdown following a sharp spike in infections. “I choose to take measures sooner rather than later,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday in a televised address.
As of early Saturday, travel between regions will be banned, and retail stores will close. Secondary schools will remain shut, with classes resuming online. Unlike during the first lockdown in the spring, kindergartens and primary schools will stay open. In addition, Greece will reintroduce a system requiring citizens to send text messages to a government number in order to leave home to work, shop, visit a doctor or take exercise.
In France, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced further coronavirus restrictions Thursday as case numbers in the French capital continued to rise and hospitals approached their breaking point. The city is already under a strict lockdown, although with more flexibility than earlier in the spring. Authorities are now seeking to impose further restrictions to limit the spread of the virus late at night. Starting at 10 p.m. Friday, Hidalgo said, certain businesses that sell alcohol for delivery or takeout will be forced to close. The aim is to cut down on crowds that authorities have observed outside the establishments.
In England, which went into its second national lockdown Thursday, new stimulus measures were unveiled to help cushion the economic impact of the restrictions. Notably, the government announced it would continue paying up to 80 percent of salaries for workers furloughed because of the pandemic, until the end of March. The Bank of England also said it would extend a stimulus package by a further $193 billion.
The announcements come amid growing concerns in Europe that the new lockdowns and tougher curbs will hinder economic recovery.
The European Commission on Thursday cut its euro-zone growth forecast for 2021 from 6.1 percent to 4.2 percent, according to Reuters. The executive arm of the European Union said the economies of Ireland, France and Belgium would be among the hardest-hit.
Others are concerned about the impact of fresh restrictions on mental health.
A new study published Thursday by researchers in New Zealand found that the country’s lockdown in April took a “significant psychological toll,” especially on younger adults.
In a statement, Susanna Every-Palmer, head of the department of psychological medicine at the University of Otago in Wellington, said: “It is clear that the consequences of the pandemic will be pervasive and prolonged. Our findings emphasize the need to put resources into supporting mental well-being both during and after lockdowns.”
Jacqueline Dupree and Elinda Labropoulou contributed to this report.