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Record Spikes in COVID-19 Cases Give U.S. States Pause When Reopening

Record numbers of new COVID-19 cases were reported in the past week by U.S. states Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, Reuters reports. U.S. state health officials partly attribute the increase to gatherings over the late-May Memorial Day holiday weekend.

While the number of new cases had been leveling off or even decreasing in some areas of the United States, a combination of additional testing and eased lockdown restrictions has led to spikes in positive COVID-19 cases. Additional testing—and therefore more accurate numbers—accounts for some of the increase, but it does not impact the rate of hospitalizations. Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah all had a record number of patients enter hospitals on Saturday.

In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert said that the state would remain at a yellow risk level for coronavirus, pausing reopening efforts. According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, COVID-19 cases in southern Utah increased 99.4 percent over a two-week period.

Despite the spike, however, Herbert announced that larger events may take place on a trial basis, giving the green light to cultural events with a maximum capacity of 6,000 people in outdoor venues and 3,000 people in indoor venues. Social distancing and face coverings are still expected.

Florida reported record levels of new COVID-19 cases over the weekend as beaches reopened. On Sunday, the Florida Department of Health reported its second consecutive day of more than 2,000 new cases. Most of the state is now in the second phase of Governor Ron DeSantis’ reopening plan, which allows bars, movie theaters, and tattoo parlors to reopen, with some restrictions, ABC reports.

According to Reuters, “fears that a second wave of infections is happening—or that states failed to curb their first wave—prompted health officials to plead with the public to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.”

The threat of a second wave of infections and shutdowns is looming over decision makers in U.S. states, and it could be even more damaging to health and the economy than before, warns CNN.

“COVID’s not taking a summer vacation,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN. “It’s actually having new opportunities to spread.”

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, added, “because of quarantine fatigue, because of the economic effects of quarantine, another round of shutdowns might have even larger effects on business that may be on the edge of not being able to stay solvent.”

Second rounds of shutdowns are not unheard of in the global response to the novel coronavirus. Hong Kong and Singapore had to tighten up easing restrictions after major resurgences. In Hokkaido, Japan, a speedy reopening was followed by a speedy reemergence of the virus.

In Beijing, China, 49 new coronavirus cases were reported on Monday, many of which were traced to a wholesale market that supplies a significant portion of the city’s meat and vegetables, AP reports. The 79 cases reported in the past few days mark China’s highest daily total of new infections in two months, and government officials have responded by suspending the start of some classes and reversing the relaxation of some social insolation measures.

The wholesale market has been closed, and testing has been ordered of all its workers. Anyone who traveled to the market is required to self-isolate for two weeks. Nearby, 11 residential compounds have been locked down.