Miami is now the coronavirus epicenter as cases surge, expert says


People enjoy a warm day at the beach in Miami Beach, Florida, USA, 12 July 2020. Florida reports 15,300 new Coronavirus cases, a record for one day anywhere in the US. Coronavirus in Miami, USA – 12 Jul 2020

(CNN) — With more than 2,000 patients hospitalized and hundreds in Intensive Care Units, “Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic,” one infectious disease expert said, comparing the South Florida metropolitan area to the city where the novel coronavirus originated.

All of Florida is struggling. On Tuesday, state health officials reported 132 Covid-19 related deaths from Monday, breaking the state’s record for most deaths in a single day due to coronavirus. The previous record was 120 deaths reported July 9.

“What we were seeing in Wuhan — six months ago, five months ago — now we are there,” Lilian Abbo, with the Jackson Health System said during a news conference hosted Monday by the Miami-Dade County mayor.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, went into a 76-day lockdown in late January after a deadly outbreak infected and killed thousands.

The first known cases of the virus were detected in the city in December and by mid-April officials reported more than 50,000 infections. Miami-Dade County has recorded more than 64,000 infections so far, according to state data.

In the past 13 days, Miami-Dade County has seen staggering increases in the number of Covid-19 patients being hospitalized (68%), in the number of ICU beds being used (69%) and in the use of ventilators (109%), the Miami-Dade County Government reported.

Forty-eight Florida hospitals, including eight in Miami-Dade, have reached their ICU capacity, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

“We need your help as media communicators to help the community understand that we’re just not repeating the same thing over and over just to give you trouble, we really need your help,” Abbo said, directing those comments to reporters.

The plea echos the requests from other leaders in the state and across the country who have seen new cases spike as people flocked back outside following weeks of lockdowns.When states began lifting restrictions, images quickly emerged of pool parties, packed beaches, reopened bars and holiday celebrations with no social distancing or face masks. Health officials warned then of what they’re now reporting: clusters of infections that are often traced back to people who didn’t heed reopening guidelines.

More than 3.3 million people have now tested positive nationwide — but the true number of infections could be much higher, experts have said, as at least 40% of those who contract the virus show no symptoms, according to a new estimate by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With no way to control the rapid spread of the virus and with thousands possibly infecting others unknowingly, state and local officials have been forced to ponder more restrictions and, in some cases, consider a second round of lockdowns.

Cities are becoming stricter. Philadelphia has canceled parades, festivals and other large events on public property through February 28, the mayor’s office said Tuesday. The order doesn’t apply to events on private property, including sports stadiums and concert venues.

In Houston, where hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients and hitting ICU capacity, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday he proposed a two-week shutdown to the governor following a surge in cases.

“I do think we are going to need to shut down for a period of time. I am proposing two weeks, or at the very minimum, to return to phase one,” Turner said.

In Atlanta, the mayor also tried to revert the city to the first phase of reopening — where residents are ordered to stay at home except for essential trips. That decision was slammed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who said it was “legally unenforceable.”

More than half of US states have now halted or rolled back their reopening plans in hopes of preventing further spread. The end of the pandemic is nowhere near in sight, the country’s leading infectious disease expert said Monday, but that doesn’t have to mean a new wave of shutdowns — as long as communities follow the rules.

“You don’t necessarily need to shut down again, but pull back a bit,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a webinar with the Stanford School of Medicine.

You asked, we’re answering: Your top Covid-19 questions

States reimpose restrictions

After an uptick in cases, at least three states have toughened restrictions, including California, New Mexico and Oregon.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said indoor activities at restaurants, bars, wineries, tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos, and museums should shut down.

The 30 counties that are on the state’s watch list will need to close indoor operations for fitness centers, places of worship, offices for non-critical sectors, personal care services, hair salons and barbershops and malls, the governor said.

In New Mexico, which has recorded at least 20% of its total infections in the past two weeks, an order from the governor places restrictions on indoor seating at restaurants and breweries again.

Restaurants and breweries can seat people outside at 50% capacity and may continue to operate takeout and delivery services. The new orders also tighten restrictions on gyms and other businesses including tattoo parlors and salons.

“Unfortunately, our state’s dramatically rising case numbers reflect that those behavior modifications and precautions have either not been taken seriously or taken up by enough people,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also took new measures, expanding face covering requirements and prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 10.

Expert: Wear masks or watch economy go ‘to hell’

As cases climb, experts are renewing calls for Americans to take precautions — and wear face masks. But more than two dozen states don’t have a statewide mask mandate.

“You have a choice,” Dr. George Rutherford, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said. “You can be locked down as the economy goes to hell, or you can wear a mask.”

In Texas, which pushed for one of the most aggressive reopenings, Gov. Greg Abbott warned residents “the worst is yet to come.” Abbott has issued an executive order requiring residents in counties with 20 or more active coronavirus cases to wear face coverings in public.

President Donald Trump also made his first appearance in front of the press with a face mask on over the weekend, after refusing to wear one in public for months.

First Lady Melania Trump tweeted an image of herself from early April wearing a face mask, along with a reminder for people to continue to wear them and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“Even in the summer months, please remember to wear face coverings & practice social distancing,” she wrote. “The more precaution we take now can mean a healthier & safer country in the Fall.”

These are the states with mask mandates

More school districts announce they’re going virtual

As more states announce restrictions, education leaders have now also been forced to reconsider what the upcoming school semester will look like for students.

Florida’s department of education said earlier this month it was requiring schools to reopen in August despite its surge of cases. On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he thinks parents “should have the option” of whether or not to send their children back to school.

But as more teachers and administrators voice opposition to returning — worried both about their own and students’ safety — districts across the country are announcing they’ll go virtual, or at least give parents more options.

California’s two largest school districts announced Monday students will continue learning remotely when classes start next month.

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