WASHINGTON – As new coronavirus infections appeared to plateau in the Sun Belt but creep up in the Midwest on Tuesday, governors and local authorities imposed additional restrictions and a powerful teachers union warned that its members would strike if ordered to return to unsafe schools this fall.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, warned that positive coronavirus test results were rising in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee as the number of new cases is showing signs of leveling off in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
“We just can’t afford, yet again, another surge,” Fauci said on “Good Morning America.” A few hours later, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Fauci’s appraisal was correct as he announced limits on county fairs, barring grandstand events, rides and games. He noted that emergency visits are decreasing and new cases have plateaued, but that hospitalizations are increasing.
Stressing the highly infectious nature of the virus, DeWine told reporters at his televised briefing about a 40-minute car ride that four people recently took to an Ohio lake. One person had the virus but did not know it. Within days, 10 people were sick, with two hospitalized and in intensive care, and three businesses had to be temporarily shuttered, he said.
“From a single car ride,” DeWine said, urging the public to wear masks and follow other public health precautions.
“If we do what we need to do, we can start these numbers going in the right direction,” he added. “We are at a crucial time.”
At a news briefing Tuesday, President Donald Trump continued to promote hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that most studies have found is ineffective in treating the novel coronavirus. The FDA has revoked its approval of the use of the drug to treat covid-19, the disease caused by virus.
On Monday, Trump retweeted a viral video that featured Stella Immanuel, a Houston pediatrician and spiritual leader who calls hydroxychloroquine a cure for covid-19 and says masks are not important in fighting the pandemic. On Monday evening, Facebook tried to scrub the video from its site after more than 14 million people watched it, saying it was misleading. YouTube said it removed the video.
Immanuel has also said that alien DNA is an ingredient in some therapeutic drugs and that government scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent religious faith.
Asked about his retweeting of the video, Trump said, “I wasn’t making claims,” just passing along recommendations.
“I took it for a 14-day period, and I’m here. Right? I’m here,” he said. “I don’t think you lose anything by doing it, other than politically. It doesn’t seem to be too popular, you know why? Because I recommend it.”
He announced that the administration is giving a $765 million loan to camera maker Eastman Kodak so it can start producing generic drugs and increase the U.S. production of pharmaceuticals now made in China and India.
Trump listed his administration’s efforts to fight covid-19, claiming large portions of the country are “corona-free.”
“But we are watching very carefully California, Arizona, Texas and most of Florida is starting to head down in the right direction – and I think you’ll see it rapidly head down very soon,” he said.
State and local officials seemed doubtful that any relief for the coronavirus was imminent, and they continued measures rooted in wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
The Columbus, Ohio City Council approved a law requiring bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. each night starting Tuesday. And Ohio State University told season ticket holders that any football games at Ohio Stadium this year will be at 20% capacity, with no tailgating allowed.
“We all love Ohio State football, it’s part of your fall, it’s part of what you like to do,” DeWine said. “But it’s too early to know if it’s safe to put 20,000 people in the Ohio State stadium. . . . For those who love Ohio State football, if you wear a mask [now], it certainly increases our odds to be able to do that.”
Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday announced that bars would be shut down for two weeks and that restaurants’ indoor dining would be restricted to 25% capacity. He also recommended that schools postpone in-person instruction until late August.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced new restrictions on restaurants and gatherings in the Hampton Roads area as new coronavirus cases rise. They include a 50% capacity for indoor dining, and ending alcohol sales after 10 p.m.
Nationwide, the number of cases appears to have leveled off to a seven-day moving average of around 66,000 new cases daily. The slight decline registered Tuesday followed five weeks of steadily rising numbers.
At least 4,315,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States, with more than 54,000 added to the tally on Monday. More than 1,000 new fatalities were recorded Monday, raising the U.S. death toll to more than 145,000.
Two potential coronavirus vaccines are moving into the last phase of testing, with 30,000-person trials. Fauci said Monday that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the candidate developed by Moderna in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.
But it is hard to predict how widespread the virus will be even a month from now. At a time when stores are normally packed with back-to-school shoppers, it is unclear whether many schools will allow students the option of coming in person.
Teachers could go out on strike “as a last resort” if they are forced to return to unsafe schools during the pandemic, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten warned Tuesday.
The executive council of the 1.7 million-member AFT, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, approved a resolution Friday giving its affiliates authorization to stage strikes – even as Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are pushing schools to fully reopen, though school district leaders say they need massive federal funding to do so safely.
“Let’s be clear: Just as we have done with our health-care workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” Weingarten said during a blistering speech at the union’s annual convention.
“But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, as our executive council voted last week, nothing is off the table – not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary and authorized by a local union, as a last resort, safety strikes,” she said.
Some small districts in Tennessee, Mississippi and other states will start the school year with in-person learning, but major school districts have opted to start online because of spiking infection rates.
Although low-income, Hispanic and black communities have been stricken disproportionately by the coronavirus, the rapid spread has hit many of the powerful as well.
DeWine, who put a mask mandate into effect two weeks ago, said two good friends contracted the disease, one of whom died. A member of his cabinet, the director of Ohio’s prison system, announced Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We are all in a difficult period,” DeWine said Tuesday. “We are living in a period of time where we don’t know what the future is. We will in fact determine the future by what collectively we do.”
In Ohio, as in most states, different trend lines are going in divergent directions. Deaths and hospitalizations lag behind new infections, so the trend in new infections provides a better indicator of where the disease is heading.
Florida, reported its biggest day of coronavirus fatalities Tuesday, with 191 deaths, including five residents from elsewhere. That pushed the state’s death toll past 6,000. Hospitalizations were up, too. But simultaneously, the number of new positive cases of virus dropped below 10,000 for the third consecutive day.
Even as cases have started to level out in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, at least 22 other states are experiencing a surge in cases. Among those experiencing a rise are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
As the disease is shifting north from the Sun Belt, officials in the Midwest have started to clamp down in an effort to stop its spread.
In Indiana, Republican, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a mask order that lasts through August.
Anyone spending more than a day in Wisconsin and 18 other states before arriving in Chicago will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
As the rate of positive cases in Illinois has inched upward, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has warned that residents probably will not return to a semblance of normal life until next year.
“I’m not a doctor, but that’s what my observation is, that we’re not going to be able to take off the mask and go about everything we were doing seven, eight months ago for a few more months, maybe six-plus months,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said Monday at a news conference.
And in Minnesota, where a mask mandate took effect over the weekend, public health officials pleaded with residents to be vigilant as new infections jumped.
“We’re not asking Minnesotans to mask up for the Health Department,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. “We’re asking them to mask up for their own health.”