WASHINGTON – As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations climb, state and local officials nationwide are sounding the alarm, warning that they’re missing key resources to confront the surge.
They are weighing new restrictions and complaining of persistent backlogs in the mass-testing systems considered key to tracking and containing the virus as the Trump administration seeks to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing and billions more that Republican lawmakers want to give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Labs in some places are taking a week or longer to provide test results, and health experts say such wait times render tests nearly useless in controlling the virus’s rampant spread.
“The national testing scene is a complete disgrace,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, adding that tests sent to out-of-state private labs were taking as many as nine days to return results.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins acknowledged Sunday that “the average test delay is too long,” while former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that the country lacks “excess capacity that we can surge into these epidemic cities.” Testing companies were falling behind not just in hotbeds such as California, Florida and Texas, he said, “but now they’re pulling testing out of other regions and you’re seeing delays there.”
“We’ve had plenty of time to get this right,” he said.
In Florida – where new coronavirus cases reported each day have topped 10,000 a dozen times this month – more than 100 hospitals have maxed out beds for adults in their intensive care units, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, with just over 1,200 adult ICU beds listed as open statewide. More than 80,000 of the state’s roughly 350,000 known cases have come during the past seven days.
In South Carolina, which on Sunday announced record-high new daily infections, lawmakers have requested military installations to help speed testing and reporting of the results. “This is an all-hands-on-deck time for us,” state Sen. Tom Davis, a Republican, tweeted this weekend.
Florida and South Carolina are among the states where governors – left to make their own choices about restrictions and reopening – have been more reluctant to impose sweeping economic shutdowns aimed at curbing the virus’s spread. As cases, deaths and hospitalizations trend upward in many states, leaders are facing renewed pressure to take painful measures.
In California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has progressively rolled back reopening with statewide or near-statewide business closures, the mayor of Los Angeles warned Sunday that the city is “on the brink” of another stay-home order.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the city reopened too quickly, and he called for patience as businesses close again. In the past week, Los Angeles County has reported its highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
Garcetti said “a lot of things went wrong” leading up to the dismal numbers but focused his blame on what he called a vacuum of national leadership.
“They said this was under control,” he said of federal leaders. “They said this would be over soon. And I think when leaders say that, people react, and they do the wrong things.”
Collins, director of the NIH, said he thinks the public did not take the virus seriously enough.
“Why are we doing so poorly?” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Tough restrictions in the pandemic’s early U.S. hot spots – the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York – helped reduce transmission of the virus significantly in those devastated regions, he noted.
“But meanwhile, the rest of the country, perhaps imagining this was just a New York problem, kind of went about their business, didn’t – really pay that much attention to CDC’s recommendations about the phases necessary to open up safely and jumped over some of those hoops,” Collins said.
President Donald Trump continued to dismiss concerns about the spike in infections, telling Fox News Channel in an interview aired Sunday that he would be “right eventually” about his oft-repeated prediction that the virus would “disappear” and saying “many of those cases shouldn’t even be cases.”
“Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day,” the president told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.”
Although young people make up an increasing share of new cases, the virus has affected people in all age groups. Health officials are saying the country could soon surpass its peak in coronavirus hospitalizations, which occurred in April, though they also say that doctors have gotten better at treating the disease and that this has helped push down intensive care unit admissions as a share of total hospital admissions.
With that milestone looming, some states say they’re cut off from key information. Missouri authorities wrote online that because of an “abrupt change in data measures and the reporting platform issued by the White House,” the state and its hospital association will be temporarily “unable to access critical hospitalization data.”
Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., whose district encompasses parts of Miami that have widespread infections, pushed back on the notion that the new cases were limited to young, healthy people and were not a cause for concern.
“It’s the working poor, it’s seniors, it’s now young people, and it’s totally out of control,” Shalala, a former health and human services secretary, said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “We need to close down again. . . . That’s our worst nightmare, and we’re going to have to do that.”
Leaders are increasingly requiring masks as a way to tackle soaring cases while trying to stave off more intrusive measures such as new stay-home orders. Face masks are now mandated in most states and recommended by the country’s top health authorities in public settings where social distancing is not feasible.
The CDC released new reports in the past week supporting face coverings’ effectiveness and suggesting that most of the country was following its recommendations on masks within days in April.
Mandating masks, however, remains a point of tension. Governors in some places with the most significant case surges have rejected statewide orders, calling them unnecessary and impractical.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, continued to spar openly about the issue: After Bottoms mandated masks in her city, Kemp responded last week with a lawsuit seeking to block the order, saying it was not enforceable. Part of the lawsuit requested a court order barring Bottoms from making public statements saying she has “the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures” than those ordered by the governor.
“Far more have sacrificed too much more for me to be silent,” Bottoms tweeted Sunday in response to the lawsuit.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, affirmed Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he would not make face coverings mandatory, saying, “If I believed that was the best way to save lives in my state, I would have done it a long time ago.”
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The Washington Post’s Cat Zakrzewski and Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.