U.S. coronavirus cases surpass eight million as infections spike nationwide

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus crossed 8 million on Thursday, rising by 1 million in less than a month, as another surge in cases hits the nation at the onset of cooler weather.

Since the pandemic started, over 217,000 people have died in the United States.

The United States reported 60,000 new infections on Wednesday, the highest since Aug. 14, with rising cases in every region, especially the Midwest.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. They have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges.

According to a Reuters analysis, 25 states have so far set records for increases in new cases in October.

All Midwest and Northeast states have reported more cases in the past four weeks than in the prior four weeks, with the number of new cases doubling in states like Wisconsin, South Dakota and New Hampshire.

In the Midwest, daily new cases hit a record on Wednesday with over 22,000 new infections. The positive test rate tops 30% in South Dakota and 20% in Idaho and Wisconsin.

Ten states on Thursday reported record increases in new cases, including Wisconsin with 4,000 new cases. “Our numbers are high and they’re growing rapidly,” state Health Secretary-Designate Andrea Palm told a news conference.

“We have now surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 patients who are in the hospital. In some regions of our state, our ICU beds are 90% or more full. Over the course of the past six weeks, our average daily deaths have more than tripled,” Palm added.

California remains the state with the most total cases followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. Those five states account for over 40% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the nation.

With both cases and positive test rates rising in recent weeks, New York City has closed businesses and schools in neighborhood hot spots despite protests from a small contingent of Orthodox Jews.

In addition to rising cases, hospitals in several states are straining to handle an influx of patients.

In the Midwest, COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high for a tenth day in a row on Wednesday. Nationally, the United States reported nearly 37,000 hospitalizations, the highest since Aug. 28.

Wisconsin, which reported record hospitalization on Wednesday, has opened a field hospital outside of Milwaukee to handle COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan, Shaina Ahluwalia and Chaithra J in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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)

U.S. Midwest sees surge in COVID-19 cases as four states report record increases

By Anurag Maan and Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Four U.S. states in the Midwest reported record one-day increases in COVID-19 cases on Saturday as infections rise nationally for a second week in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Minnesota reported 1,418 new cases, Montana 343 new cases, South Dakota reported 579 and Wisconsin had 2,902 new cases.

In the last week, seven mostly Midwest states have reported record one-day rises in new infections — Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Minnesota and Utah reported record increases two days in a row.

The United States recorded 58,461 new cases on Friday, the highest one-day increase since Aug. 7. The United States is reporting nearly 46,000 new infections on average each day, compared with 40,000 a week ago and 35,000 two weeks ago.

All Midwest states except Ohio reported more cases in the past four weeks as compared with the prior four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.

Some of the new cases are likely related to an increase in the number of tests performed. In the last week, the country has performed over 1 million coronavirus tests three out of seven days — a new record, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, hospitalizations have also surged in the Midwest and are not influenced by the number of tests performed.

Wisconsin’s hospitalizations have set new records for six days in a row, rising to 543 on Friday from 342 a week ago. South Dakota’s hospitalizations set records five times this week, rising to 213 on Saturday from 153 last week.

“Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in our state,” Governor Tony Evers said in a video posted on social media.

Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming have also seen record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the past week.

Cases have also begun rising again in the Northeast, including the early epicenters of New York and New Jersey.

In New York, more than 1,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday for the first time since June 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday.

The United States recently surpassed 200,000 lives lost from the coronavirus, the highest death toll in the world.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Trump EPA sides with farmers over refiners in biofuel waiver decision

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Monday it rejected scores of requests from U.S. oil refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from their obligation to blend biofuels like ethanol into their fuel, delivering a win for farmers and a blow to the oil industry just ahead of the November presidential election.

Reuters had reported last week that U.S. President Donald Trump, under the advice of his allies in the Midwest, ordered his Environmental Protection Agency to deny the waivers because they had become a lightning rod of controversy in the Farm Belt, an important political constituency.

“This decision follows President Trump’s promise to promote domestic biofuel production, support our nation’s farmers, and in turn strengthen our energy independence,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement announcing the agency was denying 54 applications that the Department of Energy had reviewed.

Refiners say the waivers are crucial for reducing regulatory costs for small fuel producers and keeping them in business, but the corn lobby argues the exemptions undermine demand for corn-based ethanol at a time farmers are already suffering from the impacts of a trade war with China.

CONTENTION LAW

Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refiners must blend some 15 billion gallons of ethanol into their gasoline each year or buy tradable credits from those that do. Small refiners have also been able to seek an exemption if they can prove financial harm from the requirements.

The Trump administration has roughly quadrupled the number of exemptions given out to refiners in a trend that had angered the biofuel industry.

In January, an appeals court handling a case initiated by the biofuel industry cast a cloud of doubt over the EPA’s waiver program, ruling that waivers granted to small refineries after 2010 should only be approved as extensions. Most recipients of waivers in recent years have not continuously received them.

That triggered a wave of requests for retroactive relief by refiners seeking to comply with the court decision. Since March, 17 small refineries in 14 states submitted 68 petitions, Wheeler said in a memo. The Department of Energy, which advises EPA on the waiver requests, had transmitted its findings on 54 of the petitions.

“(T)hese small refineries did not demonstrate disproportionate economic hardship from compliance with the RFS program for those RFS compliance years,” Wheeler said.

It is unclear what will happen to refining facilities that had benefited from waivers in recent years that are non-compliant with the court’s ruling. But sources told Reuters the administration may seek to offer them another form of financial relief to compensate.

It was also not immediately clear how this would affect 28 pending waiver applications for 2019 and three pending applications for 2020.

The Trump administration’s decision on Monday is a major victory for biofuel advocates in the long-standing battle between the deep-pocketed Corn and Oil lobbies.

“This is outstanding news for biofuels producers, farmers, and RFS integrity,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw. “With gap year waivers denied, the number of refiners eligible to even apply for – let alone receive – an RFS exemption going forward is reduced to single digits.”

Some in the oil industry criticized the decision. “EPA has turned a blind eye to merchant refineries and their workers in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas,” said the Fueling American Jobs Coalition, a group that includes union workers and independent refiners.

Trump over the weekend also tweeted that he would allow states to permit fuel retailers to use their current pumps to sell gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, or E15, a move that could help lift ethanol sales.

“Today’s announcements will help provide more certainty to our biofuel producers, who have for too-long been yanked around by the EPA, and help increase access to E15, which drives up demand for corn and ethanol,” said Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Dan Grebler and Marguerita Choy)

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)

COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. Midwest and Northeast, deaths fall for third week

(Reuters) – Several states in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast have seen new COVID-19 cases increase for two weeks in a row, though nationally both new infections and deaths last week remained on a downward trend, a Reuters analysis showed.

The United States reported more than 287,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 6, down 1.4% from the previous week and marking the seventh straight week of declines. More than 5,800 people died from COVID-19 last week, the third week in a row that the death rate has fallen.

Nevertheless, 17 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks, according to the Reuters tally of state and county reports. They include Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, where between 10% and 18% of people tested had the new coronavirus.

In the Northeast, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York also reported increases in new cases for at least two weeks, though the positive test rate ranged from a low of 0.9% in New York to a high of 4.3% in Delaware — below the 5% level the World Health Organization considers concerning.

In some states, testing has increased as schools reopened. New York City, for instance, is testing 10% to 20% of students and staff every month. The University of Illinois is testing students twice a week.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a fifth week to 5.5%, well below a peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The United States tested on average 741,000 people a day last week, up 5% from the prior week, but down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.

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

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)

Heavy snow in U.S. West and Midwest could disrupt post-Thanksgiving travel

(Reuters) – A major winter storm will lumber across the United States over the weekend, dumping snow as it moves east from the U.S. West and threatening to disrupt millions of people traveling home after celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Over a foot of snow is forecast in mountainous parts of Colorado, Utah and Arizona on Friday before the storm system slips toward the upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Freezing rain will likely turn to snowy blizzards in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan beginning on Friday night, with more than 18 inches of snowfall possible in some mountainous areas, the service said.

Some snow could appear in the Northeast by Sunday morning, the service said. New York City and other places further down the Atlantic Coast can expect a wintry mix of precipitation on Sunday.

More than 4 million Americans were expected to fly and another 49 million expected to drive at least 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association.

Wintry weather disrupted travel this week ahead of Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago reporting hundreds of delayed or canceled flights.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. Midwest farm economy hit hard by record floods – Fed banks

FILE PHOTO: A levee breach is shown in this aerial photo, from flood damage near Bartlett, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

By P.J. Huffstutter

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. farm incomes in the Midwest and Mid-Southern states declined yet again in the second quarter of 2019, as record floods devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt, according to banker surveys released on Thursday by the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Nearly two-thirds of the bankers surveyed by the St. Louis Fed said a majority of their farm customers were either significantly or modestly impacted by the flooding and other adverse weather earlier this year.

But in parts of the Midwest, federal trade-related aid to farmers and corn prices rising this spring due to the wet planting conditions slowed the pace of that income drop, according to bankers surveyed by the Kansas City Fed.

“These developments may have led to less pessimistic expectations about farm income in coming months,” the Kansas City Fed wrote in its survey.

The floods added more pain on farmers who have also been hurt by low crop prices and the trade war between Washington and Beijing, which has slashed shipments of U.S. agricultural products to China. The floods also battered earnings for global grain traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co <ADM.N>, as heavy rains halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River, disrupted cattle shipments and caused some plants to be shuttered.

The St. Louis Fed said the second quarter marked the 22nd consecutive quarter for farm incomes dropping in the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes all or parts of seven Midwest and Mid-South states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

The weaker income trend is expected to continue in the third quarter, dragged down by the ongoing trade fight between the United States and China, problems with crop production and depressed commodity prices, bankers in the Eighth District said.

The flooding and extreme weather also impacted local economies in western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, according to the Kansas City Fed’s survey. The bank’s Tenth District also includes Colorado, Wyoming and portions of northern New Mexico.

Farm household spending and farm capital expenditures also were lower for the quarter for the Eighth District, compared with a year earlier, raising concerns about potential ripple effects overall on rural communities.

But bankers there said they did expect such belt-tightening to ease in the third quarter, as farmers prepare for the fall harvest season.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)