Fears of COVID-19 resurgence spread to East Coast as grim U.S. records mount

By Maria Caspani and Anurag Maan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the United States, more signs emerged that a second wave could engulf areas of the Northeast, which managed to bring the pandemic under control after being battered last spring.

In New Jersey, one of the early U.S. hotspots, a spike in cases in Newark, the state’s largest city, prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to implement aggressive measures, including a mandatory curfew for certain areas, to contain the spread of the virus.

New York state and city officials also reported a worrying rise in the seven-day average infection rate that raised the specter of stricter mitigation measures adopted at the height of the pandemic.

“This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter on Wednesday as he announced the seven-day average positivity rate citywide was 2.52%. The city’s public school system, the largest in the country, would have to shut down if that figure reached 3%.

“We can do it, but we have to act NOW,” he said.

The United States as a whole reported more than 1,450 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day count since mid-August, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed for seven days straight to reach more than 136,000 as of late Tuesday while hospitalizations, a key metric of the pandemic, crossed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

In Newark, the positivity rate hovered at 19%, more than double the state’s 7.74% seven-day average, Baraka said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread,” he said.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced some restrictions on Monday in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and outbreaks among bartenders.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release on Tuesday that New York’s positivity rate had climbed above 3% for the first time in weeks.

In Maryland, where the positivity rate stood at 5.6% on Wednesday, officials warned about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. More than 800 people were being treated for the coronavirus at state hospitals as of Wednesday, according to Mike Ricci, the communications director of Governor Larry Hogan, the highest daily count since April, a Reuters tally showed.

A record number of people died of coronavirus in several Midwest and western states on Tuesday, including in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Officials in states hardest-hit by the virus pleaded with residents to stay home as much as possible and heed the advice of experts by wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“It’s not safe to go out, it’s not safe to have others over — it’s just not safe. And it might not be safe for a while yet,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said during a primetime address on Tuesday. “So, please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Editing by Nick Macfie)

Fed’s Kaplan concerned about next six months as virus surges

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan said on Tuesday he was “cautious and concerned” about downside economic risks in the short run because of the resurgence of the coronavirus, but more optimistic in the longer term.

“The next two quarters are going to be very challenging, very difficult,” Kaplan told Bloomberg’s Future of Finance virtual conference. “Downside risks are growing with this resurgence.”

Still, he said, the U.S. economy will likely rebound strongly in the second half of next year, after a vaccine is widely available, adding that his business contacts have told him they are gearing up for exactly that.

The United States is experiencing a rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, with some state and local governments re-imposing restrictions to slow the spread.

With millions of out-of-work Americans dipping into savings built with government aid distributed earlier this year, Kaplan said, household income and spending will drop off “at some point” unless more fiscal aid is forthcoming.

Aid to small businesses in the form of a renewed Paycheck Protection Program would be particularly helpful, he said, because while financial conditions are broadly fairly loose, that is not the case for smaller businesses that rely on banks for credit.

“While we are in the teeth of the pandemic I believe we need to do what we need to do to fight the pandemic,” Kaplan said in a separate event sponsored by UT Dallas.

As long as the pandemic is ongoing, the U.S. central bank should not back away from its programs supporting economic growth, which include bond purchases totaling $120 billion a month and lending programs to corporate America, he said.

Once it subsides, he said, the U.S. will need to moderate government debt.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao and Chizu Nomiyama)

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)

Oil falls on fears of more COVID-19 cases

(Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Wednesday on fears about fresh outbreaks of COVID-19 but prices drew some support from stimulus measures and positive tests of a drug that could save some critically ill patients.

Brent crude was down 38 cents, or 0.9%, at $40.58 a barrel at 1335 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell 56 cents, or 1.5%, to $37.82 a barrel.

The World Health Organization said it was moving to update its guidelines after results showed the corticosteroid medication dexamethasone cut death rates by about a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Yet concerns persisted about the spread of the virus in some regions and the risk of second waves in places where the spread had started to slow.

“The pandemic is rapidly evolving and the outlook for oil demand will, therefore, remain plagued by a degree of uncertainty,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM.

To contain the spread of a new virus outbreak in Beijing, scores of flights were canceled and schools shut.

“We think the oil market is not currently pricing in a significant probability of either second waves of coronavirus cases in key consumers and the associated lockdowns, or anything less than a rapid return to economic business-as-usual,” Standard Chartered analysts said, pointing to a downside risk for prices in the medium term.

Weak economic activity is still weighing on demand for crude. Oil imports in Japan, the world’s fourth-biggest crude buyer, slumped in May to the lowest in almost three decades.

However, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries forecast a gradual recovery in oil demand and said record supply cuts by the group and other producers were already helping rebalance the market.

Business confidence at Asian companies sank to an 11-year low in the second quarter, a Thomson Reuters/INSEAD survey found, with two-thirds of firms polled seeing a worsening COVID-19 pandemic as the biggest risk over the next six months.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Additional reporting Jane Chung in Seoul; Editing by Louise Heavens, Mark Potter and David Clarke)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 6-17-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

‘Show me the data’

The report on Tuesday of a powerful treatment for the new coronavirus brought skepticism along with optimism among U.S. doctors, who said the recent withdrawal of an influential COVID-19 study left them wanting to see more data.

Researchers in Britain said dexamethasone, used to fight inflammation in other diseases, reduced death rates of the most severely ill COVID-19 patients by around a third, and they would work to publish full details as soon as possible.

One influential COVID study was withdrawn this month by respected British medical journal The Lancet over data concerns.

“We have been burned before, not just during the coronavirus pandemic but even pre-COVID, with exciting results that when we have access to the data are not as convincing,” said Dr. Kathryn Hibbert, director of the medical intensive care unit at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

Worries mount in Beijing

Scores of flights to and from Beijing were canceled, schools shut and some neighborhoods blocked off as officials ramped up efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has fanned fears of wider contagion.

The resurgence of the disease in the Chinese capital over the past six days has upended daily life for many, with some fearing the entire city is headed for lockdown as the number of new COVID-19 cases mounts.

The Beijing outbreak has been traced to the Xinfadi wholesale food center in the southwest of the city.

Rising tide in U.S.

New coronavirus infections hit record highs in six U.S. states – Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas – on Tuesday, marking a rising tide of cases for a second consecutive week.

Health officials attribute the spike to businesses reopening and Memorial Day weekend gatherings in late May. Many states are also bracing for a possible increase in cases after tens of thousands of people took part in protests over the past three weeks to end racial injustice and police brutality.

In Oklahoma, where President Donald Trump plans to hold an indoor campaign rally on Saturday, health officials urged attendees to get tested for the coronavirus before arriving and then to self-isolate following the event and get tested again.

A test for Sweden’s strategy

A municipality in northern Sweden began shutting down public facilities including sports venues, bathhouses and libraries on Wednesday after what it called an alarming spread of COVID-19.

The small municipality of Gallivare, 1,000 km north of the capital and home to about 17,000 people, said on its web page the spread was out of control and dangerous.

Close to 5,000 people have died from the disease in Sweden but deaths have slowed considerably since the peak in April.

Unlike most other countries in western Europe, Sweden opted against a full lockdown, keeping most schools and nearly all businesses open while seeking to leverage mostly voluntary restrictions and recommendations on social distancing.

Global Pride unites in face of COVID

After the cancellation of hundreds of Pride parades due to the COVID-19 pandemic, national Pride networks have set up a new digital Global Pride day on June 27 to unite people all over the world in celebration and support.

The 24-hour stream of music, performances and speeches will feature politicians including U.S. presidential hopeful Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and spotlight the challenges faced in some countries by LGBTI+ individuals, many of which have increased since the start of the pandemic.

“A lot of people, especially young people, have had to go back maybe to their families who might not be supportive or they had to go back to their home town which might be a bit more conservative,” said Ramses Oliva, 24, a trans gay man who is an ambassador for charity ‘Just Like Us’ which supports LGBT+ young people.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes, Editing by William Maclean)