What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks


What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks

As coronavirus outbreaks are slowly brought to heel in many places around the world, the US is among a handful of countries facing a surge of new infections.

More than two dozen states are now seeing increases in new cases over the last 14 days.

Of these, Texas, Florida, Arizona and California have emerged as the country’s latest virus epicentres.

But while cases are clearly rising, state leaders and health experts are divided on the cause.

Here’s a look at these four US hotspots, the facts and figures raising alarm, and the theories that may help explain each surge.

What about testing?

First, it’s important to note that across the US, more efficient testing has played some role in the climbing case count. The number of Covid-19 tests being administered now is nearly double what it was in April and May.

But the positive test rate tells us that testing can’t explain away the rise.

If lots of tests are being conducted and the spread of the coronavirus has been reduced, then the positive case rate would fall in tandem. The World Health Organization says that states should have a positive case rate at or below 5% for two weeks before they loosen restrictions on movement.

Even with testing success stories, it’s clear that the southern and western US are seeing a particularly sharp spike in infections and their rate.

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As of 30 June, Texas, Florida, Arizona or California all fall under that category – and all fail to meet the bar.


After nearly three months of new cases hovering between 1,000 and 2,000 each day – Texas’ infection count has spiked in the last two weeks, with up to 6,000 new illnesses reported in a single day.

The sharp rise in cases has been mirrored by record highs in hospital admissions – reaching at 5,913 on Monday – and stoking fears that the state’s hospitals will soon be overwhelmed.

What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks

If this trajectory persists, Houston, the state’s most populous city, “would become the worst affected city in the US”, possibly rivalling what’s happening now in Brazil, wrote Peter Hotez, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, on Twitter. “I cannot really see how things get better on their own.”

Why the rise? Many point to the south-western state’s leading role peeling back lockdown measures.

Map of Covid-19 cases in Texas
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott allowed his stay home order to expire on 30 April, with almost all businesses – including bars and restaurants – operating to at least 50% capacity by early June. Last week, amid the surge, the governor shut down all bars and ordered restaurants to cut down capacity from 75 to 50%.

What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks

“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars,” Mr Abbott said to El Paso station KVIA-TV. A “bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work with a pandemic”.

Packed restaurants and bars may also fit with another national trend: the average age of people diagnosed with Covid-19 has decreased gradually throughout the pandemic.

In certain counties, people under the age 30 make up the majority of Covid patients, Mr Abbott said at a press conference earlier this month, which “typically results from people going to the bar-type settings”.

What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks

Parts of the state are now also enacting rules on face coverings.

Policies on masks are one of the factors differentiating states like Texas from those seeing lower transmission rates.

In 11 states with mask rules in place – including New York and Illinois – the number of new cases has declined 25% in the last two weeks, according to an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer. On the other hand, in states where only some employees have to wear masks, new cases have risen by an average of 70%.


What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks

Florida’s stay home order expired shortly after Texas’, on 4 May.

While the state’s most populous counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, held off until 18 May, Florida still had one of the more aggressive reopening strategies in the US.

Disney properties and beaches began reopening by the end of last month, just as Americans across the country celebrated the Memorial Day holiday. Days into June, bars, restaurants, gyms, and shops were also resuming business.

Now, the Sunshine State is seeing a surge in Covid-19 – this past weekend saw over 8,500 new cases per day. In the last two weeks, cases have increased fivefold, according to the New York Times.

Map of US showing places with increasing cases
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Hospitalisations are up as well, but Florida’s death toll has not seen so sharp a rise thus far.

The governor’s answer for why that may be lines up with what the White House has said: more testing and more young people with infections.


Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said a backlog “test dump” coupled with transmission in the 18 to 35 age range is behind the concerning counts. He said that 20% of Floridians aged 25 to 34 are testing positive, and called on younger residents to be more careful, citing graduation parties that ignored social distancing rules.

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“We’ve been stressing avoiding the three Cs, which are: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places with many people nearby and close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations,” Mr DeSantis said.

But some experts say even with testing, the numbers still point to community spread linked to more social contact.

What’s Behind Alarming New US Outbreaks


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