Officials in states with surging coronavirus cases issued dire warnings Sunday about the spread of infections, blaming outbreaks in their communities on early reopenings and saying the virus was rapidly outpacing containment efforts.
“We don’t have room to experiment, we don’t have room for incrementalism when we’re seeing these kinds of numbers,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat who is the top elected official in Harris County, Texas, which encompasses the sprawling Houston metro area. “Nor should we wait for all the hospital beds to fill and all these people to die before we take drastic action.”
The rolling seven-day average for daily new cases in the United States reached a record high for the 27th day in a row, climbing to 48,606 on Sunday, according to The Washington Post’s tracking. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations rose to their highest levels to date in Arizona and Nevada.
The country’s seven-day average of new deaths fell to 486, down from 562 a week prior, but health experts cautioned that the count of infections would soon drive the number back up.
New coronavirus cases in Florida on Sunday exceeded 10,000 in a day for the third time in the past week, after the state posted a record high of 11,458 the previous day. The new infections pushed the state’s total caseload past 200,000, a mark passed by two other states, New York and California.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said it was “too early to tell” whether the Republican National Convention could be held safely in Jacksonville, Fla., next month. “We’ll have to see how this unfolds in Florida and elsewhere around the country,” he told CNN.
Frustration about the pandemic response has mounted among local leaders, who say they have had to grapple with conflicting orders and frequently changing guidelines from governors and the White House as they try to curb sharply rising infections.
After Texas reported another single-day record for new coronavirus cases over the weekend, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that there won’t be enough medical personnel to keep up with the spike in cases if the rate of increase continued unabated in his city.
“If we don’t change this trajectory, then I am within two weeks of having our hospitals overrun,” he said, adding that intensive care units in the city could be overflowing within 10 days. He said he was not sure that Texas needed a statewide shelter-in-place order but that he wanted the authority to impose one locally.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, echoed Adler’s concerns. The hospitals in his city face staffing shortages as demand for ICU beds increases exponentially, he said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
“In fact, if we don’t get our hands around this virus quickly, in about two weeks, our hospital system could be in serious, serious trouble,” Turner said. Demand for testing has also outpaced the city’s capacity, he said, and the positivity rate has soared from 10% a month ago to 25% recently.
In an interview with ABC News’s “This Week,” Hidalgo said she had been stripped of authority to issue stay-home orders in Harris County after Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, decided to move forward with an aggressive reopening plan in the spring. All she could do was issue “recommendations,” which were nowhere near as effective, she said.
“As long as we’re doing as little as possible and hoping for the best, we’re always going to be chasing this thing, we’re always going to be behind, and the virus will always outrun us,” Hidalgo said. “And so what we need right now is to do what works, which is a stay-home order.”
In Florida, which also reported a record caseload Saturday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said it was “clear that the growth is exponential at this point.”
“There’s no doubt that when we reopened, people started socializing as if the virus didn’t exist,” the Republican mayor told ABC News. “It’s extremely worrisome.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, attributed soaring case numbers in Arizona to the state’s decision to resume business as usual before the virus was under control. She noted that young people who ignored health guidelines had probably led the explosion in cases.
Gallego said federal officials had dismissed her requests to conduct community-based testing in the area after people reported waiting in line for six hours at some testing sites. “We were told they’re moving away from that,” she said, “which feels like they are declaring victory while we’re still in crisis mode.”
In Greenville, S.C., the nightclub where two were killed in a shooting early Sunday had violated crowd restrictions enacted because of the pandemic, Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis told the Greenville News. In fact, he said, the club was not allowed to be open and officials were considering revoking its liquor and business licenses.
The warnings came after President Donald Trump said Saturday that his administration had made “a lot of progress” in combating the pandemic.
Speaking at an Independence Day event on the White House lawn, Trump said the country had “learned how to put out the flame” of the coronavirus.
“Our strategy is moving along well,” he said, thanking front-line pandemic workers for their work. “It goes out in one area and rears back its ugly face in another area. But we have learned a lot.”
He continued to assert that testing had inflated new case numbers – a claim contradicted by rising positivity rates and widely disputed by epidemiologists – and said the country was making progress on developing therapeutics and a vaccine.
Public health experts have stressed that the recent surge in cases is not the result of expanded testing capacity alone. “When the virus is under control, testing doesn’t uncover more cases. It’s a tool for keeping the epidemic at bay,” said former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who served in the Trump administration.
Gottlieb voiced doubts about the country’s ability to slow the pandemic, saying waves of infection probably would persist through the rest of the year. The situation was at least as bad as it was during the height of the outbreak in New York earlier this year, he said, except that the country was not dealing with multiple centers of infection.
“We’re not going to really be able to crush this virus at this point because there’s just so much infection around,” he said on “Face the Nation.” “We really don’t seem to have the political will to do it.”
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The Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.
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