In the United States, the first wave is not over


After the first modest signs of improvement in the number of new coronavirus cases had led to reopening and loosening of restrictions, things started to get worse in the United States. In recent days, new cases of contagion have increased in 23 states, and although this can partly be explained by the increase in tests, hospitalizations and the occupation of intensive care units are increasing in many places, a sign that things are not going well.

At this moment the United States is the country with the highest number of confirmed infections in the world – more than 2,300,000 – and the one with the most confirmed deaths, over 121,000 according to the most updated data. The worst moment of the spread of the virus seemed to have come between April and May, after which a slow decline in the number of new cases and an improvement in hospitals had begun. The physical spacing measures adopted in many states of the country, the closure of work activities and the obligation to stay at home adopted where the situation was more serious had worked, reducing the speed of spread of the virus.

Initially most of the infections were linked to some large outbreaks, the main of which in New York and New Jersey, while in the rest of the country the most serious situations were often attributable to nursing homes, where the virus had managed to spread more easily. In New York, the situation began to improve considerably already in May and June, allowing a relaxation of the restrictive measures. If more than 10,000 cases per day were confirmed in the state in April, it has now gone to a few hundred. In New Jersey, 4,124 cases were confirmed on April 23; 319 were confirmed on 23 June.

In the rest of the country, and in many states where the outbreak appeared to have been very small initially, things have gotten worse in the past few weeks.

The states that are experiencing the greatest increase in contagion cases are in the South and West of the United States. In recent days Arizona, Texas, Florida and Missouri have all reported the greatest number of new daily infections since the beginning of the epidemic; but the increase was also very substantial in Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Montana, California, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Overall, June 23 was the second day with the largest number of cases confirmed since the outbreak in the United States, with more than 35,000 new positives.

A graph of the New York Times with the number of new cases confirmed every day from March onwards, across the United States (the entire section of the New York Times with coronavirus numbers and statistics can be seen here).

The increase in new cases is partly attributable to the increase in the number of tests that are carried out. In Florida, where the highest daily number of new confirmed cases was recorded on June 20 (4,049), Governor Ron DeSantis spoke of a “much better” situation than at the beginning of April, indicating a drop in hospital occupancy and the coronavirus mortality rate among the improving indices. In many other states, however, not only confirmed cases seem to be increasing, but also those requiring hospitalization and intensive care units.

In Texas and Arizona in June there were the highest levels of hospitalizations since the beginning of the epidemic. Even in Oklahoma, where the big rally of Donald Trump was held last Saturday in Tulsa, the number of people hospitalized because of the coronavirus has started to increase again. An analysis of ABC News found an increase in hospitalizations in 17 states, showing that among the new confirmed cases there are also many serious cases. If the increase in the number of cases was only linked to the increase in the number of tests performed – as also argued by President Donald Trump – an increase in minor cases or in asymptomatic patients that would not otherwise have been identified should be expected. The increase in severe cases indicates that the virus is still spreading rapidly and without weakening.

Experts agree that the increase in cases is mainly related to the easing of the restrictive measures in recent weeks. Although strict restrictions such as those in New York had been imposed in a few states, many governors had decided to close stores, bars, restaurants, and manufacturing operations even where the situation did not appear to be particularly severe. The new cases are often attributable to participation in indoor public events and small or medium-sized outbreaks linked to bars, night clubs and religious events.

There has also been much talk about the possibility that the great demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter movement have favored the spread of the virus, but as he explained Vox it is still early to say for sure: little time has passed since the peak of the demonstrations and it is certain that the spread of the virus is easier in closed places.

For the moment, the governors of the states with the worst situation are avoiding imposing new restrictive measures: in part to avoid blocking the economy again just as it is slowly starting to restart, in part because they are among the states that opposed it more to any restrictive measure. Several counties in Florida, however, have imposed the use of masks even outdoors and the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has asked its citizens to stay at home as much as possible, giving local administrators the power to ban every public event with more than 100 participants.

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