The Reasons Behind The Surge In Coronavirus Cases Across The Southern States
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Two-point-six million people in this country have now been infected with COVID-19 according to Johns Hopkins University. And even as new cases soar, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress today that things could get much worse.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Will Stone has been looking into what is driving this surge in cases, and he joins us now. Welcome.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Texas, Arizona and Florida are among the states seeing staggering increases in new infections. What's going on there?
STONE: Yes - huge increases in those states. Over the past two weeks, Arizona's had an 85% jump in new infections. In Texas, it's more than 130%. And the governors of both states have been candid. The trends are really alarming. And what happened is these states opened up relatively quickly. They relaxed restrictions on businesses, and public health experts say they just never had the virus fully under control. I spoke to Pia MacDonald. She's an infectious disease epidemiologist with RTI International, a think tank based in North Carolina. She says the states were not doing enough testing. They weren't pushing masks and social distancing. It was like they were going back to normal.
PIA MACDONALD: Also, it's about the messaging to the public about reopening. It's not reopening business as usual. It is reopening in a profoundly new way we need to go about our business for quite a number of years.
STONE: Now, so far, we're not seeing the same death rate we saw in the Northeast. That's partly because there's a lag in reported deaths, so we just have to wait and see. And another reason is that younger adults make up a big share of these new cases, and they're less likely to get seriously ill and die.
SHAPIRO: And do experts know why younger people are getting infected in higher numbers this time around?
STONE: It's hard to know exactly, but experts say it makes sense that younger adults are more likely to start venturing out as society reopens, whether that's going to restaurants or social gatherings. And 20- and 30-year-olds are also more likely to work in the businesses that are reopening, which then puts them at risk as they head back to work. Of course, it's also behavior. We have all seen scenes of young people crowded together on beaches and in bars, not wearing masks and not really practicing social distancing.
SHAPIRO: So how are these states that are seeing huge jumps like Arizona, Texas and Florida trying to get the numbers under control?
STONE: Well, one thing they're doing is shutting down bars, which can be a real problem. There's been quite a few reports now of large clusters of coronavirus cases connected to a night out at a bar. I spoke to Dr. Thomas Tsai at Harvard about this question. He and his colleagues looked at the effect of shutdown orders in different states, and one of their conclusions was that limits on bars and restaurants appear to be the single most effective social distancing order. And he says you have to think of reopening as this dial which you adjust depending on the risk in the community.
THOMAS TSAI: You don't want to dial up something that you can't get the lid back on, right? You want to dial up things that you can. Dialing up with a golf course opening - very easy, likely to not make the cases worse. And then if you need to shut golf courses down, it's really easy to do. Now, a lot of states in the South, they opened up with bars and restaurants first. And, you know, clearly, we can see what's happened.
STONE: So Tsai says the message is you really need to think carefully about each stage and what kind of business you're opening up.
SHAPIRO: And what do these surges mean for states like New York that seem to have their outbreaks under control?
STONE: It's clearly a concern. They're watching what's happening elsewhere in the country. And just today Dr. Fauci said that when you have an outbreak in one part of the country or several regions like we see right now, it puts the entire nation at risk.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Will Stone.
STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.