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NPR Health

As Cities Hit Hardest By COVID-19 Reopen, Red Flags Emerge In Other Areas

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Maybe you don't need this reminder because you're still on some kind of stay-at-home order. Or maybe you do need it because life feels like it's back to normal in your part of the country. But it bears repeating - we are still very much under threat from the coronavirus. States keep opening back up. But in some places, the virus is just taking off now. We've NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with us. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Can you just give us the overall picture to start with? Where does this pandemic stand in the United States at this point?

STEIN: Sure. You know, if you look at the country overall, things don't look like they've gotten any worse since the nation started to reopen around Memorial Day weekend. The pandemic seems kind of stuck where it's been for a while now. About 20 to 25,000 Americans are still getting infected every day. About 800 to 1,000 are dying every day from COVID-19.

But remember, nearly 2 million cases have now been reported in the U.S. And more than 112,000 Americans have already died. And the toll just keeps rising day after day. And as soon as you start to look more closely at individual states, red flags start to pop up all over the country, especially in the last couple of weeks.

GREENE: Well, yeah. I mean, 1,000 people still dying every day - or close to it - I mean, that's just stunning.

STEIN: Yeah.

GREENE: So where are these new hot spots that we might be seeing here?

STEIN: They're scattered coast to coast. Things have gotten much better in some places that were hit hardest the earliest like New York, New Jersey. But cases are rising in more than 20 states in the southeast, states like Florida, the Carolinas, Arkansas, Kentucky - in the West, states like Arizona, Texas, California, even places like Montana, Utah and Idaho.

Now, in some of these places, the total number of cases is still pretty small. But they look like they may be starting to go up quickly. And this is especially concerning more rural places that don't have a lot of hospitals and so you know, easily could get overwhelmed. And hospitalizations for COVID have already started rising in some places like Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and California.

GREENE: So is this because of the reopenings that have taken place? Do we know that?

STEIN: It's probably the reopenings. You know, testing has also been going up. So it could be we're just spotting more infections. But testing really hasn't gone up enough to explain it. And if you look at, like, cellphone data, that shows that there's been a big jump in people moving around and. In fact, the amount of movement looks like it's back up to at least two-thirds of where it was before the lockdown.

So that supports the idea that these increases are real. Lots of people have emerged from hiding in their homes. They're going back to work, going to stores, bars, restaurants, just starting to socialize more. And that's how the virus spreads.

GREENE: I mean, is there a chance we'd have to do a big shutdown again?

STEIN: You know, hopefully not. And, you know, public health experts say the country can still slow the virus if people don't let down their guard, they keep wearing their mask, keep staying six feet away from each other. But they're worried, you know, that the company is already on track for another hundred-thousand people to die by the fall. And that could be even worse if people kind of just give up. Here's Dr. Ashish Jha. He's a global health expert at Harvard I talked to about this.

ASHISH JHA: It's stunning to me that we have just decided it's OK for tens of thousands of Americans to die. And we aren't going to do what we know we can do to prevent those deaths. And that is, to me, unconscionable.

STEIN: You know, so Jha and others hope people will remain vigilant and the country finally does all the things that can crush the pandemic. You know, test enough people to spot outbreaks quickly. And aggressively track down everyone who's infected to stop them from spreading the virus.

GREENE: That is NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks so much.

STEIN: You bet, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.