HOUSTON – A coronavirus resurgence is wiping out two months of progress in the U.S. and sending infections to dire new levels across the South and West, with administrators and health experts warning Wednesday that politicians and a tired-of-being-cooped-up public are letting a disaster unfold.
The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new COVID-19 cases, the highest since late April, when the number peaked at 36,400, according to Johns Hopkins University.
While newly confirmed infections have been declining steadily in early hot spots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Some of them also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.
“People got complacent,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. “And it's coming back and biting us, quite frankly.”
The virus has been blamed for over 120,000 U.S. deaths – the highest toll in the world — and more than 2.3 million confirmed infections nationwide.
California reported over 7,100 new cases, an all-time high. Florida's single-day count surged to 5,500, a 25% jump from the record set last week and triple the level from just two weeks ago.
In Texas, which began lifting its shutdowns early on, May 1, hospitalizations have doubled and new cases have tripled in two weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott told KFDA-TV that the state is facing a “massive outbreak” and might need new local restrictions to preserve hospital space.
The Houston area's intensive care units are nearly full, with coronavirus patients filling about 1 in 4 beds, and two local public hospitals are running at capacity, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
“We need everybody to behave perfectly and work together perfectly” to slow the infection rate, Houston Methodist's Boom said. “When I look at a restaurant or a business where people ... are not following the guidelines, where people are just throwing caution to the wind, it makes me angry.”
In Arizona, emergency rooms are seeing about 1,200 suspected COVID-19 patients a day, compared with about 500 a month ago. If the trends continue, the state will probably exceed its hospital bed capacity within weeks, said Dr. Joseph Gerald, a University of Arizona public health policy professor.
“We are in deep trouble,” said Gerald, urging the state to impose new restrictions on businesses, which Gov. Doug Ducey has refused to do. The Texas governor initially barred local officials from fining or penalizing anyone for not wearing a mask as the state reopened. After cases began spiking, Abbott said last week that cities and counties could allow businesses to require masks. Both Abbott and Ducey are Republicans.
Some business owners are frustrated officials didn't do more to require masks.
“I can't risk my staff, my clientele, myself, my family and everybody else in that chain just because other people are too inconvenienced to wear a piece of cloth on their face,” said Michael Neff, an owner of the Cottonmouth Club in Houston. He closed it down this week so staffers could get tested after one had contact with an infected person.