In U.S. Midwest states, new COVID-19 infections rise to record highs

By Lisa Shumaker and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Wisconsin and other states in the U.S. Midwest are battling a surge in COVID-19 cases, with new infections and hospitalizations rising to record levels in an ominous sign of a nationwide resurgence as temperatures get colder.

More than 22,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported on Wednesday across the Midwest, compared with a previous record of more than 20,000 on Oct. 9. Hospitalizations in those states reached a record high for a 10th day in a row as some hospitals began feeling the strain.

More than 86% of the beds in Wisconsin’s intensive care units were in use as of Wednesday, and a field hospital opened in a Milwaukee suburb in case medical facilities become overwhelmed.

Neat rows of makeshift cubicles enclosing beds and medical supplies occupied the fairgrounds in West Allis, which has been the home of the Wisconsin State Fair since the late 1800s.

Dr. Paul Casey, the medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin said entire wards full of COVID-19 patients were stretching resources “to the limit.”

“It’s going to get worse,” he told CNN on Thursday. “We predict it will peak mid-Novemeber.”

More than 1,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Wisconsin on Wednesday, the state’s health department said, and health authorities recorded an almost 25% spike in coronavirus hospitalizations in the past seven days compared to the previous week.

Other Midwestern states were also setting grim records.

Since the start of October, North Dakota and South Dakota have reported more new COVID-19 cases per capita than all but one country in the world, Andorra.

These states are reporting three times as many new cases per capita this month than the United Kingdom, Spain or France, according to a Reuters analysis.

“It’s quite concerning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview with ABC television on Thursday. “We really got to double down on the fundamental public health measures that we talk about every single day because they can make a difference.”

Fauci also warned about the risks of holding crowded rallies as President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail after recovering from the coronavirus.

Trump, making a push in the weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election after being hospitalized with COVID-19, has continued to minimize the threat to public health posed by the virus that has killed more than 216,000 Americans.

New York, once the U.S. epicenter of the virus, is now dealing with a spike in infections in several “clusters.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said he expected flare-ups to continue for at least a year.

“The way of the world going forward is going to be that the virus will constantly flare up in certain locations,” Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday. “The art form is going to be identify these small sites where it flares up and be able to stop it before it spreads.”

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

As cold weather arrives, U.S. states see record increases in COVID-19 cases

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Nine U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, mostly in the upper Midwest and West where chilly weather is forcing more activities indoors.

On Saturday alone, four states – Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin – saw record increases in new cases and nationally nearly 49,000 new infections were reported, the highest for a Saturday in seven weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming also set new records for cases last week.

New York is one of only 18 states where cases have not risen greatly over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he is moving to shut non-essential businesses as well as schools in nine neighborhoods, starting on Wednesday. The lockdown would require the governor’s approval.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. Daytime highs in the upper Midwest are now in the 50’s Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

Montana has reported record numbers of new cases for three out of the last four days and also has a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.

Wisconsin has set records for new cases two out of the last three days and also reported record hospitalizations on Saturday. On average 22% of tests are coming back positive, one of the highest rates in the country.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor mandated masks on Aug. 1 but Republican lawmakers are backing a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the highest new cases per capita in the country.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is one of several prominent Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Because of the surge in cases in the Midwest, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities operated by Aspirus in northern Wisconsin and Michigan are barring most visitors as they did earlier this year.

Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said last week its emergency department has been past capacity at times and doctors had to place patients in beds in the hallways.

The United States is reporting 42,600 new cases and 700 deaths on average each day, compared with 35,000 cases and 800 deaths in mid-September. Deaths are a lagging indicator and tend to rise several weeks after cases increase.

Kentucky is the first Southern state to report a record increase in cases in several weeks. Governor Andy Beshear said last week was the highest number of cases the state has seen since the pandemic started.

State health experts have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges. Over the last two weeks, Kentucky has reported nearly 11,000 new cases and has seen hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients rise by 20%.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Wisconsin faces COVID-19 crisis, positive test rates rise in New York hot spots

By Jonathan Allen and Lisa Shumaker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – COVID-19 trends are all moving in the wrong direction in Wisconsin, where U.S. President Donald Trump will hold rallies over the weekend, while the pandemic’s early U.S. epicenter of New York state reported an uptick of positive coronavirus tests in 20 “hot spots” on Thursday.

New cases of COVID-19 rose in 27 out of 50 U.S. states in September compared with August, with an increase of 111% in Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis.

Wisconsin is also dealing with a troubling rise in serious COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals.

“Our emergency department has had several instances in the past week where it was past capacity and needed to place patients in beds in the hallways,” Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, said in a statement. “Our ICU (intensive care unit) beds have also been full, or nearly full, during the past week.”

Health officials in the state said public gatherings have become even more dangerous than earlier in the pandemic, and Governor Tony Evers issued an emergency order easing licensing rules to increase the number of healthcare workers able to deal with the mounting crisis.

“We are seeing alarming trends here in Wisconsin, with today seeing our highest number of new cases in a single day, and yesterday seeing our highest death count,” Evers said in a statement.

Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at the Wisconsin department of Health Services, said the state’s outbreak started in younger people and has now spread throughout the community.

“Public gatherings of any kind are dangerous right now, more so than they have been at any time during this epidemic,” he told CNN on Thursday.

In New York, which grappled with the world’s most rampant outbreak earlier this the year, officials said they were worried about clusters of cases in 20 ZIP code areas across the state, where the average rate of positive tests rose to 6.5% from 5.5% the day before.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy encouraged residents to download onto their smartphones a new voluntary contact-tracing app, COVID Alert, they launched on Thursday. The app uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they have recently been near someone who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Many of New York’s 20 hot spots – half of which are in New York City – include Orthodox Jewish communities. Cuomo said he talked to community leaders about enforcing social distancing measures.

“A cluster today can become community spread tomorrow,” Cuomo said on a briefing call with reporters. “These ZIP codes are not hermetically sealed.”

He implored local authorities to increase enforcement measures. “If they’re not wearing masks, they should be fined,” Cuomo said.

Wisconsin health officials are urging residents to stay home and avoid large gatherings ahead of Trump’s weekend rallies in La Crosse and Green Bay in the run up to the Nov. 3 election.

An indoor Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in July likely contributed to a subsequent rise in cases there, city health officials said.

“This spike we’re seeing in Brown County, Wisconsin should be a wakeup call to anyone who lives here that our community is facing a crisis,” Dr. Paul Casey, medical director of the emergency department at Bellin Hospital, told CNN.

Cases, hospitalizations, positive test rates and deaths are all climbing in Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis.

Over the past week, 21% of coronavirus tests on average came back positive and have steadily risen for five weeks in a row from 8% in late August.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has doubled in the last two weeks hitting a record of 646 on Wednesday, the same day Wisconsin reported its biggest one-day increase in deaths since the pandemic started with 27 lives lost.

Beyond the Midwest, western states were also facing spikes in coronavirus cases. Montana on Friday reported a record increase in cases for the second day in a row and had a record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise in 27 states for two straight weeks

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen for two weeks in a row in 27 out of 50 states, with North Carolina and New Mexico both reporting increases above 50% last week, according to a Reuters analysis.

The United States recorded 316,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 27, up 10% from the previous seven days and the highest in six weeks, according to the analysis of state and county data.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told ABC News that the country was “not in a good place.”

“There are states that are starting to show (an) uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalizations in some states. And, I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths,” he said, without naming the states.

North Carolina reported a 60% jump in new cases to 13,799 last week, while New Mexico saw new infections rise 55% to 1,265. Texas also reported a 60% jump in new cases to 49,559, though that included a backlog of several thousand cases.

Deaths from COVID-19 have generally declined for the past six weeks, though still stand at more than 5,000 lives lost a week. Deaths are a lagging indicator and generally rise weeks after a surge in cases.

Testing in the country set a record of over 880,000 tests a day, surpassing the previous high in July of 820,000.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 held steady at about 5%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 28 states have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are 26% in South Dakota, 21% in Idaho and 19% in Wisconsin.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

California governor says COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, trending down

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The rates of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions were all trending downward in California in the latest counts, the governor said on Monday.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said that despite that good news, the state’s Central Valley agricultural region was still being hit hard by the coronavirus. He said the data had yet to reach a point for lifting pandemic restrictions.

“This virus is not going away,” Newsom said at a daily coronavirus briefing. “It’s not going to take Labor Day weekend off or Halloween off or the holidays off. Until we have a vaccine we are going to be living with this virus.”

California, the country’s most populous state with some 40 million residents, has recorded a total of 514,901 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 9,388 deaths, according to the governor’s office.

The state’s seven-day average of infections has dropped more than 21 percent, compared to the previous period, Newsom said, and hospitalizations are down 10 percent in a 14-day average.

California has administered more than 8 million tests for COVID-19, and the rate of positive results has declined to seven percent over the last 14 days, compared to 7.5 percent in the previous two weeks.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler and Howard Goller)

U.S. coronavirus infections, hospitalizations rise, crisis could worsen

(Reuters) – The United States has revisited the grim milestone of recording more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, while infections and hospitalizations are rising in many states, forcing President Donald Trump to acknowledge the crisis could get worse.

More than 142,000 people in the country have died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, a toll that public health experts say will likely rise in several states. Florida, Texas, Georgia and California are among about 40 states recording more cases.

Florida reported 9,785 new cases and 140 new deaths on Wednesday, while COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized hit a record high of 9,530. Alabama reported a record 61 new deaths on Wednesday, a day after hospitalizations hit a record high.

Nationally, coronavirus deaths rose by 1,141 on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally. It was the first time since June 10 that the daily toll surpassed 1,000.

Nineteen states have reported a record number of currently hospitalized COVID patients so far in July. Thirty-two states have reported record increases in cases in July and 16 states have reported record increases in deaths during the month.

The U.S. government moved to secure 100 million doses of vaccine, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday.

The government will pay $1.95 billion to buy the doses of Pfizer Inc and German biotech firm BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate if they are able to successfully develop one, the companies said.

Pfizer said it would not receive any money from the government unless the vaccine is deemed to be safe and effective and is successfully manufactured.

Trump, who played down the extent of the health crisis and the importance of face coverings, changed his tone on Tuesday, and encouraged Americans to wear a mask if they cannot maintain social distance.

Trump also said that the spread of the virus “will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better – something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

Mandatory mask wearing, which health officials say can slow the spread of the virus, is a political issue among Americans, with many conservatives calling such rules a violation of their constitutional rights.

Coronavirus infections are increasing in some politically important states including Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely, Alexandra Alper, Jeff Mason, Michael Erman and Ankur Banerjee; Writing by Grant McCool; editing by Lisa Shumaker)

New York suffers deadliest day in coronavirus crisis

By Nathan Layne and Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – New York has suffered its deadliest day in the novel coronavirus pandemic, with 731 fatalities in the last 24 hours, although Governor Andrew Cuomo said hospitalizations were reaching a plateau in a promising sign for the hardest-hit state.

Even as the total number of deaths reached 5,489 across New York, Cuomo told a daily briefing on Tuesday that he was working with governors in New Jersey and Connecticut on a plan to restart life once the crisis subsides.

Cuomo said that the closures of businesses and schools and other social distancing measures were having the intended impact and urged continued compliance, especially as New York City braces for the possible peak to hospitalizations this week.

“Our behavior affects the number of cases,” said Cuomo. “They are not descending on us from heaven.”

The 731 new deaths on Monday marked an increase from the prior day’s 599 new deaths, while new hospitalizations nearly doubled to 656, contradicting a trend of the past few days which Cuomo had touted as a possible “flattening of the curve”.

But Cuomo cautioned against reading too much into one day of data and stressed three-day averages, which still showed a downward trend in the stress on the state’s hospitals. The governor also pointed to a daily drop in admissions to intensive care units and a fall in intubations as encouraging signs.

Cuomo said health officials have developed an antibody testing regimen that was approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for use in the state, and said that regulators were working to bring it up to scale.

The test, Cuomo said, would determine whether a person has developed antibodies from contracting and resolving the virus, and would be part of a larger plan aimed at getting people back to work and to school.

“That’s why you would have the antibodies for the virus – that would mean that you are no longer contagious, and you can’t catch the virus because you have the antibodies in your system,” the governor said.

“You are not going to end the virus before you start restating life.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

California COVID-19 hospitalizations double in four days: governor

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state had nearly doubled over the past four days and the number of ICU patients tripled during that time.

By Monday, 1,421 California patients had been hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, up from 746 four days ago, Newsom said. The number of patients requiring intensive care beds rose to 597 from 200, he said. Altogether, 5,763 people have tested positive for the disease in the state, he said.

The rapid increase in the need for hospital and ICU care led Newsom to set up a website to connect retired doctors and nurses, as well as medical and nursing students, to hospitals and clinics that need them. The state will help retirees activate their licenses and students obtain licensing.

“If you’re a nursing school student, a medical school student, we need you,” Newsom said. “If you’ve just retired in the last couple of years, we need you.”

The state is hoping its initiative, dubbed California Health Corps, will bring on board enough staff to handle an additional 50,000 hospital beds, Newsom said. An executive order signed Monday also temporarily allows physician assistants and nurse practitioners to perform some duties normally performed by physicians and registered nurses, and waives other state rules during the crisis.

Medical professionals who sign up under the program will be paid with state and federal funds and provided malpractice insurance.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)