California, Texas and Florida Emerge as COVID-19 Hotspots

Combined, the three states accounted for nearly 20 percent of the world’s new cases on earlier this week

Drive-by COVID testing in California
Together, COVID-19 cases in California, Florida and Texas accounted for one-fifth of new cases in the world and one-third of new cases in the United States on Monday, July 13. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California, Florida and Texas have emerged as new hotspots in the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, together accounting for one-fifth of the world’s new cases of the disease, Nigel Chiwaya and Corky Siemaszko report for NBC News.

After instituting stay-at-home orders in early spring, the three states began to reopen in May, including reopening indoor facilities like bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and gyms, per CNN’s Alaa Elassar. Recorded cases of COVID-19 began to rise in mid-June, and now deaths by the virus are also rising in California, Florida and Texas, Peter Aldhous reports for Buzzfeed News.

“We just reopened too fast and these are the consequences of it,” emergency room physician Cedric Dark, who treats COVID-19 patients at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, tells BuzzFeed News.

Texas’ stay-at-home order expired on May 1, at which point restaurants were allowed to open at a quarter of their usual capacity. By the beginning of June, childcare centers, office buildings, bowling alleys, skating rinks and school districts were allowed to reopen for the summer, per CNN.

Last week, the World Health Organization acknowledged that the virus that causes COVID-19 can become airborne in crowded, indoor spaces and spread between people, Apoorva Mandavilli reported for the New York Times on July 9. The rapid spread of the disease in Texas has led the state's governor Greg Abbott to close bars and require Texans to wear masks in public, although many Texas counties have either opted out of the order or refused to enforce it, per Valeria Olivares of the Texas Tribune.

A new lockdown in Texas is now a “real possibility,” physician and economist Mark McClellan, also a top medical advisor to Gov. Abbott, tells the New York Times. “I don’t think we have much time, before having to go to a more extreme step.”

Now, some counties in Texas and Arizona have requested refrigerated trucks in case morgues run out of space. New York City used refrigerated trucks as makeshift morgues when COVID-19 deaths peaked in April.

On Monday, the U.S. averaged about 724 deaths per day, compared to about 2,200 per day in April. But on Tuesday, Florida announced 132 deaths due to the virus, a new record in the state. Florida also recorded a one-day high of new cases on Sunday, July 12, with 15,300 new cases confirmed, per the Washington Post. Last week, Florida reported the most new COVID-19 cases of any state.

Florida is continuing with its reopening plans, although some businesses, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, have opted to remain closed or close their restaurants in hotspots like Florida. Disney World reopened on Saturday with reduced capacity, masks required and other precautions, Julie Tremaine reports for CNN.

Florida’s hospitals have “just been horrifically busy,” infectious disease expert John Toney of University of South Florida, tells the New York Times. “It’s reminiscent of what everyone dealt with in New York. It’s certainly putting a strain on a lot of the systems, even though hospitals are trying to accommodate.”

As Rachel Feltman reports for Popular Science, private parties and indoor gatherings at bars and clubs are a particularly risky activity for COVID-19 transmission. Gatherings like those have been linked to rising cases in young people, which poses a risk for their family members in close contact as well.

Dark tells Buzzfeed News that low-income families living in multigenerational households are especially worrying because in that situation, it is difficult to separate younger family members from the older people they live with.

California is responding to the surge in cases by reversing most of its reopening plans. Restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, museums and zoos must end indoor services while bars are closing entirely. The state’s increase in cases are largely driven by rapid spread in Los Angeles County, Rachel Treisman reports for NPR.

"We're moving back into a modification mode of our original stay-at-home order,” governor Gavin Newsom says to NPR. “But doing so utilizing what is commonly referred to as a 'dimmer switch,' not an 'on and off switch.’”

“It’s hard to say where it will go and what mortality will look like as hospitals become stressed,” says University of Arizona epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, also a member of the Federation of American Scientists’ Coronavirus Task Force, to BuzzFeed News in an email. “I’m hopeful that hospitals are more prepared, but ultimately there’s only so many beds you can create.”

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