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)

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)

Pfizer to make Gilead’s COVID-19 treatment remdesivir

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc said on Friday it signed a multiyear agreement to make COVID-19 treatment remdesivir for developer Gilead Sciences Inc, which is under pressure to increase tight supplies of the antiviral drug.

Gilead is aiming to make enough of the drug by the end of the year to treat more than 2 million COVID-19 patients, and agreed to send nearly all of its remdesivir supply to the United States through September.

But hospital staffers and politicians have complained about difficulties in gaining access to the drug, which is one of only two to have demonstrated an ability to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients in formal clinical trials.

There are also fears of shortages outside the United States, and separately on Friday, Britain’s Hikma Pharmaceuticals PLC said it has started manufacturing remdesivir at its Portugal plant.

Gilead said its manufacturing network for the drug had grown to more than 40 companies in North America, Europe and Asia to add capacity.

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of U.S. state attorneys general urged the federal government to allow other companies to make Gilead’s remdesivir, to increase its availability and lower the price of the antiviral drug.

Pfizer will provide contract manufacturing services through its McPherson, Kansas, plant, the drugmaker said. It was not immediately clear if Pfizer would supply only for the U.S. market.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Pfizer in 2017 saying that the process for manufacturing sterile injectable drugs at the Kansas plant was “out of control” and put patients at risk.

The FDA said several products were contaminated with multiple foreign particulates but a subsequent FDA inspection found that the issues had been resolved.

Pfizer, with Germany’s BioNTech, is also rushing to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus.

Pfizer has helped other drugmakers manufacture their products before. It makes EpiPen emergency allergy treatments through its Meridian Medical Technologies business and also operates a contract manufacturer called Center One.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Matthew Lewis)

Quarantine or not, tourists still flock to New Mexico

By Andrew Hay

RED RIVER, N.M. (Reuters) – In the New Mexico mountain resort of Red River, tourists from Texas stroll along Main Street, most disregarding Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders they quarantine and wear masks.

It’s the same in other New Mexican tourist towns such as Taos and Santa Fe, except nearly all their visitors wear face coverings – surrounded by signs warning of fines if they don’t.

Like governors in at least 15 states, Democrat Lujan Grisham has ordered out-of-state tourists to self-isolate, citing data that about one in 10 of New Mexico’s spiking COVID-19 cases comes from visitors.

Enforcing the orders is proving difficult, given the lack of a national plan, police reluctance to take on the massive task, and Americans’ penchant for driving hundreds or thousands of miles to vacation, even in a pandemic.

A U.S. road trip this summer means navigating through a patchwork of quarantine regulations across various states, most of them voluntary.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infection rates to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. New York imposes fines.

Hard-hit Florida requires travelers from those three states to self-isolate for 14 days whether arriving by plane or car, or face a $500 fine.

Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont all have varying self-isolation rules.

‘TAKING AWAY OUR LIBERTY’

New Mexico published newspaper ads in neighboring Arizona and Texas, states respectively reporting 27% and 18% positive coronavirus test rates, urging their residents not to visit. Health experts consider a 5% rate to be worrisome.

But tourists keep coming.

“I think it’s bullshit. They’re saying the masks should work, so why should you be quarantined?” said Chris Fry, 59, a feed company manager from Dimmitt, Texas, staying in his cabin near Red River and stopping in town for ice before going fishing.

A 45-minute drive south in Taos Plaza, Louisiana tourist Christy Brasiel was frustrated the historic Native American community was closed to visitors and compared Lujan Grisham’s rules to “communism or socialism.”

“They’re taking away our liberty,” said Brasiel, 49, staying in an Airbnb rental to avoid her voluntary quarantine order enforced by local hotels that turn away out-of-state visitors.

As in cities across New Mexico, police in Red River have yet to issue citations for non-compliance to COVID-19 rules, said Mayor Linda Calhoun, a Republican, adding that she is encouraging businesses to require masks.

“We live off of tourists, that’s all we have, so it’s very difficult for us to enforce the order,” Calhoun said of the quarantine rule in her town nicknamed “Little Texas” for the number of visitors from that state.

Many locals in Taos County, where COVID-19 cases have doubled in the last month, are dismayed by the rule breaking.

“It doesn’t make any sense to be so selfish,” said lawyer Maureen Moore, 67.

“WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE”

Only three weeks ago, as outbreaks raged across the U.S. Sunbelt, New Mexico reported stable or declining daily cases.

A poor state with limited hospital capacity, New Mexico used early, tough restrictions to curb the pandemic.

But with its positive test rate rising above 4%, Lujan Grisham has scolded New Mexicans for letting down their guard since she eased restrictions on June 1, and on Monday re-closed indoor restaurant dining.

On a shortlist as a running mate to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Lujan Grisham has also rounded on tourism, the state’s second-largest industry.

“We don’t want you here now,” she told potential visitors in a July 9 press briefing, taking special aim at Texans. “I want you to stay in Texas.”

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico State Police would “aggressively” enforce her quarantine and mask orders. The force has handed out 13 verbal warnings for mask violations but none for quarantine non-compliance, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The rules are piling pandemic pain on businesses in the state. Standing outside his Red River supermarket, business owner Ted Calhoun said Lujan Grisham had gone too far.

“Ordering visitors to do a 14-day quarantine is killing the tourist industry of New Mexico,” said Calhoun, the mayor’s husband.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Red River, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant, Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)

Three more states added to New York governor’s quarantine order

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered people arriving from an additional three states to quarantine for 14 days amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The three additional states are Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma, all of which are seeing ‘significant’ community spread of the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

Travelers arriving to New York from a total of 19 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Where U.S. coronavirus cases are on the rise

By Chris Canipe and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Most U.S. states reported a drop in new cases of COVID-19 for the week ended May 17, with only 13 states seeing a rise in infections compared to the previous week, according to a Reuters analysis.

Tennessee had the biggest weekly increase with 33%. Louisiana’s new cases rose 25%, and Texas reported 22% more cases than in the first week of May, according to the Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

Michigan saw new cases rise 18% after five weeks of declines. Michigan was hit hard early in the outbreak and has seen more than 4,800 deaths.

Nationally, new cases of COVID-19 are down 8% in the last week, helped by continued declines in New York and New Jersey. Nearly all 50 U.S. states, however, have allowed some businesses to reopen and residents to move more freely, raising fears among some health officials of a second wave of outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended states wait for their daily number of new COVID-19 cases to fall for 14 days before easing social distancing restrictions.

As of May 17, 13 states had met that criteria, down from 14 states in the prior week, according to the Reuters analysis.

WHERE NEW CASES ARE FALLING

Kansas and Missouri saw the biggest declines in new cases from the previous week, after an outbreak at a St. Joseph, Missouri meatpacking plant resulted in over 400 cases in the first week of May. St. Joseph sits on the Kansas-Missouri border, just north of Kansas City.

Washington D.C. saw a 32% decline after several weeks of growth.

Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, saw new cases fall 12% in the past week and now has two consecutive weeks of declining cases.

Globally, coronavirus cases top 4.5 million since the outbreak began in China late last year. On a per-capita basis, the United States has the third-highest number of cases, with about 45 for every 10,000 people, according to a Reuters analysis.

(Reporting by Chris Canipe in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago)

Explosion at Kansas aircraft plant injures 15 people

(Reuters) – At least 15 people were injured on Friday after a liquid nitrogen line exploded at a Textron Aviation plant near Wichita, Kansas, potentially setting back the launch of a new aircraft under development, county and company officials said.

Emergency medical services took 11 people to the hospital, one of them suffering potentially serious injuries, Dr. John Gallagher, director of Sedgwick County EMS, told a news conference.

Company officials said two of victims went to the hospital in private cars and two were treated at the scene.

Injuries were limited because only a skeleton crew was on duty during the holidays, said Deputy Chief Daniel Wegner of the Sedgwick County Fire Department.

The explosion in a 3-inch liquid nitrogen gas line also damaged a storage tank, causing nitrogen gas to vent out of the building, Wegner said.

News video from the scene showed what appeared to be a steam cloud billowing out of the damaged building. The gas was not harmful, Wegner said.

A second valve also ruptured, said Kate Flavin, a spokeswoman for Sedgwick County, and emergency crews vented nitrogen gas from the affected tanks before doing another search of the plant.

No others were found injured and control of the facility was returned to Textron shortly after noon, but emergency crews remained on standby at the scene, she said.

Damage was contained to Plant 3, a site for composite manufacturing and experimental aircraft fabrication including that of the SkyCourier, said Stephanie Harder, a spokeswoman for Textron.

The SkyCourier, a utility turboprop under development, is due to enter service in 2020, Textron has previously said. Harder said it was too early to determine what damage the prototype aircraft under production may have suffered.

Textron Aviation, a unit of Textron Inc <TXT.N>, makes Beechcraft and Cessna aircraft.

The Wichita-area economy has long been supported by aircraft manufacturing. Boeing Co <BA.N> announced in January it would suspend production of its 737 Max jetliner, which has been grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes. That move affected workers at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Boeing’s top supplier, which produces the jet’s fuselages.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Additional reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bill Tarrant and Richard Chang)

‘It is time to stop vaping’: Kansas reports sixth U.S. death linked to mystery illness

By Matthew Lavietes

(Reuters) – A Kansas resident was the sixth person to die in the United States of a mysterious respiratory illness related to vaping, state officials said on Tuesday, as public health officials scrambled to understand a nationwide health problem.

“It is time to stop vaping,” Kansas State Health Officer Dr. Lee Norman Norman said in a statement. “If you or a loved one is vaping, please stop.”

U.S. public health officials are investigating 450 cases of vaping-related lung illness across 33 states and one U.S. territory. The nationwide investigation led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not linked the illnesses to any specific e-cigarette product.

Many of the reported illnesses involved vaping products, including cannabis products, containing vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from vitamin E that can be dangerous if inhaled. The vaping industry has blamed the surge in the contagion on black market products, but health officials have yet to rule out any vaping devices as a potential cause.

“We agree with the FDA — if you don’t want to die or end up in a hospital, stop vaping illegal THC oils immediately,” said a spokesman from the American Vaping Association. “If you’re an adult smoker or ex-smoker who vapes store-bought nicotine products, don’t listen to the activists who would rather you inhale deadly smoke than vape.”

Symptoms among the reported cases included shortness of breath, fever, cough and vomiting. Additional indicators have included headache, dizziness and chest pain.

To date, Kansas has six cases associated with the outbreak. Health officials disclosed that the individual who died was over the age of 50 and had a history of underlying health issues, according to the statement. No other information was provided to protect patient confidentiality.

“Our sympathies go out to the family of the person who died,” Governor Laura Kelly said in the statement. “I urge Kansans to be careful. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, and please follow the recommendations of public health officials.”

The American Medical Association on Monday urged Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of any sort until scientists have a better handle on the illnesses.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

Tornadoes rip through Kansas after one killed, scores hurt by Ohio twisters

A man named Luther cleans up his driveway of debris after a tornado touched down overnight in city of Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

BROOKVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) – Several tornadoes reportedly touched down on Tuesday evening in Kansas to damage homes, uproot trees and rip down power lines, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

About 20 tornadoes, including a large rain-wrapped twister near Kansas City, were reported to the NWS by storm chasers and spotters as news broadcast images of roofs torn off homes and roads scattered with debris and tree limbs.

“The house took a pretty good beating … but the main thing is that we are all safe,” homeowner Brian Perry told 41 Action News in Kansas City. “It was pretty wild, never been through anything like it in my life.”

The extent of the damage was unclear and there were no reports of fatalities or injuries.

The Kansas City International Airport said on Twitter that travelers found shelter in parking garage tunnels as the storms passed by the airfield. The airport later said it was closed as crews cleared debris.

The latest wave of tornadoes came a day after a spate of twisters pulverized buildings in western Ohio, killing one person, injuring scores and triggering a recovery effort in neighborhoods strewn with wreckage.

An 81-year-old man was killed in Celina, a small city 65 miles (105 km) north of Dayton, after a tornado sent a vehicle crashing into his home, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel told a news conference.

More than 300 tornadoes have ravaged the U.S. Midwest in the last two weeks, during an unusual onslaught of extreme weather.

The tornado in Celina, which touched down late on Monday, was at least an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, packing wind speeds of 136 mph to 165 mph (219 kph to 266 kph), said Patrick Marsh, a meteorologist at the federal Storm Prediction Center.

The storm injured seven people in Celina, three of them seriously, Hazel said, and about 40 homes there were seriously damaged or destroyed.

Two tornadoes categorized as EF3 or stronger also struck late on Monday near Dayton, including one just south of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Marsh said. An EF3 is just two scales lower than the most intense tornado possible, an EF5.

Damaged property is seen after a tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. LOUIS CORTEZ /via REUTERS

Damaged property is seen after a tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. LOUIS CORTEZ /via REUTERS

‘LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN’

Sue Taulbee, 71, was watching television in her bed in the Dayton suburb of Brookville when she heard an approaching twister.

“They say it’s like a freight train: That’s what I heard,” she recalled on Tuesday afternoon. She hid at the foot of the bed. Flying debris smashed her window and she was soon trapped as her home collapsed around her.

“It was only a couple of minutes, but it seemed like an hour,” she said as she sat in her yard, surrounded by her scattered possessions.

“I just started screaming and my neighbors heard me and said, ‘Sue! Sue! I hear you! We’re coming! We’re coming!'”

They pulled her out through a hole and brought her to a hospital to treat a cut on her head, she said.

After the twisters, Ohio Department of Transportation crews used snow plows to clear highways of debris.

The risk of more tornadoes continued into the night on Tuesday in some Midwest states and the mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New York, Marsh said.

‘THROWN AROUND’

Nearly 80 people in and around Dayton went to hospitals with injuries, said Elizabeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Kettering Health Network.

“We’ve had injuries ranging from lacerations to bumps and bruises from folks being thrown around in their houses due to the storms,” Long said.

The flurry of hundreds of tornadoes that has recently struck the Midwest was caused by the interaction of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, a strong jet stream and a weather front that has been locked in place, said Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with the federal Weather Prediction Center.

Joseph Taulbee, 21, Allyson Smith, 25, and Danielle,Taulbee, 24, work to collect memorabilia from their grandmother’s damaged house after a tornado touched down overnight in Brookville, near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

Nearly 55,000 homes and businesses in Ohio were without power on Tuesday, according to the PowerOutage.US tracking service, and officials advised people to boil water after water plants and pumps halted.

The latest storm follows tornadoes and floods that killed at least three people in Missouri and six people in Oklahoma during the previous week, including two in El Reno on Saturday.

Unexpected pipeline outages and refinery shutdowns over the past week – in part caused by bad weather in the U.S. Midwest – have roiled cash markets for both crude oil and refined products, traders said.

Rainfall could trigger flash flooding on Tuesday evening in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, said Brian Hurley, a senior meteorologist at the federal Weather Prediction Center.

(This story corrects dateline and name of Dayton suburb in paragraph 12 to Brookville, not Brookline)

(Reporting by Kyle Grillot in Brookville, Ohio; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)