New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 11% last week, Midwest hard hit

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases rose 11% in the United States last week compared to the previous seven days, with infections spreading rapidly in the Midwest, which reported some of the highest positive test rates, according to a Reuters analysis.

Deaths fell 3% to about 4,800 people for the week ended Oct. 11, according to the analysis of state and county reports. Since the pandemic started, nearly 215,000 people have died in the United States and over 7.7 million have become infected with the novel coronavirus.

Twenty-nine out of 50 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks in a row, up from 21 states in the prior week. They include the entire Midwest except Illinois and Missouri, as well as new hot spots in the Northeast, South and West.

In Idaho, 23.5% of more than 17,000 tests came back positive for COVID-19 last week, the highest positive test rate in the country, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak. South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin also reported positive test rates above 20% last week.

For a third week in a row, testing set a record high in the country, with on average 976,000 tests conducted each day last week. The percentage of tests that came back positive for the virus rose to 5.0% from 4.6% the prior week.

The World Health Organization considers rates above 5% concerning because it suggests there are more cases in the community that have not yet been uncovered.

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

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 17% in past week, deaths up 5%

(Reuters) – The weekly number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States rose last week for the first time after falling for eight straight weeks, an increase that health experts attributed to schools reopening and parties over the Labor Day holiday.

New cases rose 17% to about 287,000 for the week ended Sept. 20, while deaths rose 5.5% to about 5,400 people after falling for the previous four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Thirteen states have seen weekly infections rise for at least two weeks, up from nine states the previous week, according to the Reuters tally. In Arizona, new cases doubled last week.

On average, more than 776 people a day died from COVID-19 last week, with deaths rising in Arkansas, Kansas and Virginia.

After weeks of declining test rates, an average of 812,000 people a day were tested last week. The country set a record of testing over 1 million people on Saturday.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a seventh week to 5.0%, 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, 26 of the 50 states still have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are in the Midwest at over 16% in Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.

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

U.S. COVID-19 deaths surpass 190,000; Iowa and South Dakota emerge as new hotspots

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the U.S. Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.

Iowa currently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.

The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.

New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the United States with a death rate of about 6,100 per week from COVID-19 in the last month.

On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The U.S. death toll is also the highest in the world.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the U.S. death toll will reach 200,000 to 211,000 by Sept. 26.

The University of Washington’s health institute last week forecasted that the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. disasters cause insurance double whammy for pandemic-hit businesses

By Suzanne Barlyn and Alwyn Scott

(Reuters) – As insurers brace for an expensive natural-disaster season because of storms and wildfires ravaging parts of the United States, the novel coronavirus is giving them an odd financial break.

Many companies that were damaged or evacuated because of natural catastrophes were already generating far less revenue due to the pandemic. That means they will get lower payouts upon filing business-interruption claims, according to analysts, lawyers and industry sources.

It is another hit for small businesses that rebuilt after major disasters in recent years, only to see revenue screech to a halt during the pandemic, and then enter another aggressive disaster season. It could leave some companies unable to survive, said John Ellison, an attorney at Reed Smith LLP who has represented policyholders in cases stemming from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy.

“There is a reasonable chance that any business in that situation is not going to make it,” he said.

Claims are never simple to file or process, with insurers, lawyers and accountants quibbling over calculations. They rarely cover all losses.

The past several months have been particularly tough for policyholders in states like California, Iowa and Louisiana. They were already battling insurers in court over pandemic claims and then suffered damage from Hurricane Laura, wildfires and a destructive, fast-moving storm that devastated parts of the Midwest.

Most disaster claims are for property damage, but a “significant” amount still comes from business interruption, based on the way insurers have attributed losses after major disasters, said Piper Sandler analyst Paul Newsome.

Insurers do not disclose how much of their total disaster losses are for business interruption.

The amount of payouts for disasters during the pandemic depend on the business, said Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the industry-funded Insurance Information Institute. A liquor store whose business is booming might have higher revenues than six months ago, she said.

Many insurers make a 12-month income projection when calculating the claim, Worters said.

Business-interruption policies cover losses based on recent income trends, so payouts will almost certainly be lower for companies whose operations suffered because of the pandemic, said Credit Suisse analyst Mike Zaremski. Government-imposed lockdowns, supply-chain disruptions and weaker customer demand have hurt many businesses.

That is the situation in Guerneville, California, a wine region where many businesses had to evacuate because of wildfires after already being hurt by the pandemic.

For instance, Big Bottom Market, a gourmet deli there, had to close from March to May. When it re-opened, business was initially off by 40% compared with the prior year, said owner Michael Volpatt. Introducing new services like catering stemmed the tide, but July revenue was still down 9%, Volpatt said.

An Aug. 18 mandatory wildfire evacuation forced Big Bottom Market to close for 12 days. The store escaped property damage but lost over $20,000 in revenue, said Volpatt, who is preparing an insurance claim.

Business interruption was already a sore point between insurers and customers, who are battling in court about whether policies cover pandemics. Only a few of nearly 1,000 lawsuits that are pending have produced rulings, with mixed results.

Hair-salon owner Berlin Fisher is a plaintiff in one such case filed in July. A Hiscox Ltd unit denied business interruption claims for Fisher’s two California salons, whose revenue was wiped out by a measure barring indoor haircuts, he said. Fisher’s San Francisco salon went under as the pandemic dragged on.

A Hiscox spokesman declined comment.

In June, Fisher began cutting hair under a tent in Guerneville to make ends meet. He evacuated four weeks later because of the fires and filed another claim, which is pending.

Fisher pays about $100 monthly for the policy, but said it may not be worth the expense.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between what people who sold the insurance told me then and what actually happens,” he said.

(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn and Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Dan Grebler)

U.S. coronavirus cases top six million as Midwest, schools face outbreaks

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus surpassed six million on Sunday as many states in the Midwest reported increasing infections, according to a Reuters tally.

Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota have recently reported record one-day increases in new cases while Montana and Idaho are seeing record numbers of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Nationally, metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and the positivity rates of tests are all declining, but there are emerging hotspots in the Midwest.

Many of the new cases in Iowa are in the counties that are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, which are holding some in-person classes. Colleges and universities around the country have seen outbreaks after students returned to campus, forcing some to switch to online-only learning.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday said his state was sending a “SWAT team” to a State University of New York (SUNY) campus in Oneonta in upstate New York to contain a COVID-19 outbreak. Fall classes, which started last week at the college, were suspended for two weeks after more than 100 people tested positive for the virus, about 3% of the total student and faculty population, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said.

“We have had reports of several large parties of our students at Oneonta last week, and unfortunately because of those larger gatherings, there were several students who were symptomatic of COVID,” Malatras said.

Across the Midwest, infections have also risen after an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota drew more than 365,000 people from across the country from Aug. 7 to 16. The South Dakota health department said 88 cases have been traced to the rally.

More than eight months into the pandemic, the United States continues to struggle with testing. The number of people tested has fallen in recent weeks.

Many health officials and at least 33 states have rejected the new COVID-19 testing guidance issued by the Trump administration last week that said those exposed to the virus and without symptoms may not need testing.

Public health officials believe the United States needs to test more frequently to find asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers to slow the spread of the disease.

While the United States has the most recorded infections in the world, it ranks tenth based on cases per capita, with Brazil, Peru and Chile having higher rates of infection, according to a Reuters tally.

The United States also has the most deaths in the world at nearly 183,000 and ranks 11th for deaths per capita, exceeded by Sweden, Brazil, Italy, Chile, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Peru.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Paul Simao)

Iowa says derecho storm destroyed grain storage bins as Trump heads to state

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A severe windstorm last week destroyed or seriously damaged more than 57 million bushels of commercial grain storage capacity in Iowa and a similar amount on farms, the state’s agriculture department estimated on Tuesday, raising concerns ahead of the autumn harvest.

Fresh estimates of the damage from the Aug. 10 derecho emerged as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to visit Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the day after approving disaster aid for the state.

The storm crumpled steel storage bins, flattened corn fields, caused widespread damage in towns and left thousands of people without power.

The destruction compounded troubles for a U.S. agricultural economy already battered by extreme weather, the U.S.-China trade war and disruptions to labor and food consumption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa’s agriculture department said it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

Trump approves emergency aid for Iowa after storm

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he approved federal disaster aid for Iowa after a hurricane-force storm hit last week, causing widespread damage in towns and farms and leaving thousands without power.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said on Sunday she requested about $4 billion in emergency funds following the Aug. 10 storm.

The destruction compounded troubles for a U.S. agricultural economy already battered by extreme weather, the U.S.-China trade war and disruptions to labor and food consumption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just approved an emergency declaration for Iowa,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing on a trip to the Midwest. “It really did a lot of damage,” he said of the storm.

Trump, who is scheduled to speak on Monday in Minnesota and Wisconsin, said he aimed to visit Iowa.

“I’ll be going very soon and maybe today,” he said.

Media reports said the storm caused at least three deaths in Iowa. Winds as high as 100 miles per hour (160 kph) hit eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of Illinois.

The storm impacted 37.7 million acres of farmland across the Midwest, including 14 million in Iowa, the Iowa Soybean Association said on Friday, citing estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’ve never seen the corn flattened as much as it has from this terrific windstorm,” U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa told reporters on Monday. “The number of grain bins flattened is humongous.”

The storm affected 58,000 holders of crop-insurance policies with a liability of around $6 billion in Iowa, according to the Iowa Soybean Association.

Grassley said crop insurance covers about 90% of Iowa farmland. It is too early to determine whether there will be enough storage space for the autumn harvest, he said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Steve Holland; in Washington; and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dan Grebler)

U.S. surpasses 160,000 coronavirus deaths as school openings near

By Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 160,000 people have died from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, nearly a quarter of the global total, according to a Reuters tally on Friday, as the country debates whether schools are ready to reopen in coming weeks.

The country recorded 160,003 deaths and 4.91 million cases, the highest caseload in the world, caused in part by lingering problems in making rapid testing widely available and resistance in some quarters to masks and social distancing measures.

Coronavirus deaths are rising in 23 states and cases are rising in 20 states, according to a Reuters analysis of data the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.

On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 10th highest in the world for both cases and deaths.

Friday’s grim milestone marks an increase of 10,000 deaths in nine days in the United States.

Many of those died in California, Florida and Texas, the top three U.S. states for total cases. While new infections appear to be declining in those states, new outbreaks are emerging coast to coast.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator for the White House coronavirus response, warned of worrying upticks in the rate of tests coming back positive in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. residents could be dead from COVID-19 by Dec. 1, University of Washington health experts said on Thursday, although they said 70,000 lives could be saved if Americans were scrupulous about wearing masks.

Throughout the country, U.S. officials, teachers’ unions, parents and students were debating how to reopen schools safely.

President Donald Trump has urged states to resume in-person classes, saying the virus “will go away like things go away,” but health officials have told states with rising counts to be on guard.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday some 700 school districts in the state could reopen classrooms, but insisted schools do extensive consultation with teachers, students and parents beforehand.

“If you look at our infection rate we are probably in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

In New York City, where 1.1 million children attend the country’s largest network of public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said students’ attendance will be limited to between one and three days each week. Parents in New York City have until Friday to request all-remote learning for their children.

Chicago Public Schools, which make up the country’s third largest school district, reversed course this week, saying students would stick with remote learning when the school year begins.

Some states, including Florida and Iowa, are mandating schools provide at least some in-person learning, while the governors of South Carolina and Missouri have recommended all classrooms reopen.

Texas had initially demanded that schools reopen but has since allowed districts to apply for waivers as the state grapples with a rising caseload. The Houston Independent School District has said that the school year will begin virtually on Sept. 8, but will shift to in-person learning on Oct. 19.

(Reporting by Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)

Tyson Foods will shut U.S. pork plant as more workers catch COVID-19

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc said on Thursday it will temporarily close an Iowa pork plant due to the coronavirus pandemic, a month after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered slaughterhouses to stay open to protect the country’s food supply.

Meat processors like Tyson Foods, WH Group’s Smithfield Foods and JBS USA temporarily closed about 20 slaughterhouses last month as workers fell ill with the new coronavirus, leading to shortages of certain products in grocery stores. Production remains lower than normal because of increased absenteeism and social distancing among employees.

An Iowa state official said 555 employees at Tyson’s Storm Lake plant tested positive for the virus, about 22% of the workforce.

Tyson will stop slaughtering hogs at the facility and finish processing the animals over the next two days, according to a statement.

It will resume operations next week following “additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility,” the statement said. The closure is due partly to a delay in COVID-19 testing results and employee absences, according to Tyson.

Tyson said it conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing at the plant in northwestern Iowa and implemented safety measures to protect employees like requiring them to wear masks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on the Trump administration and meat companies to do more to protect workers. The union reported more than 3,000 infections and 44 deaths among U.S. meatpacking workers, up from 35 deaths as of May 12.

“Too many workers are being sent back into meatpacking plants without adequate protections in place, reigniting more outbreaks in the plants and our communities,” said Nick Nemec, a South Dakota farmer who is part of an advocacy group working with the union.

The Storm Lake plant slaughters about 17,250 pigs a day when it is running at full capacity, according to industry data. That accounted for about 3.5% of U.S. production before the pandemic.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Buttigieg holds lead over Sanders in latest Iowa caucus results

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg held his lead over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses in updated results released by the Iowa Democratic Party on Wednesday.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, led with 26.9% of state delegate equivalents, compared to Sanders with 25.2% and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren with 18.2%, according to official results with 75% of precincts reporting.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden trailed in fourth place as tabulation of Iowa’s Monday caucus results continued after technology-related delays.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann)