Health

US puts brakes on economic reopening as daily infection tally hits new high

By Jairo Mejia

New York, Jul 2 (efe-epa).- The return to “normality” and economic recovery will have to wait in the US after several states, including California, decided to once again impose restrictions on the opening of businesses to try and halt the accelerating spread of the coronavirus, with confirmed infections hitting a new record high on Thursday.

With the confirmation that some 50,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, the US still is not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in the pandemic, despite the fact that the Northeastern states that have suffered the worst outbreaks of the virus since April are recovering with newly registered infections and deaths now at minimum levels.

As it stands at present, Florida, Texas, California and Arizona together were responsible for 60 percent of the new virus cases on Wednesday, according to figures released Thursday by the authorities.

In just one month, Florida has jumped from less than 1,000 coronavirus cases per day to more than 10,000 reported on Thursday and other states have seen similar accelerations that are causing health authorities to fear that the hospital systems there may become overwhelmed in July and many to believe new restrictions on commercial activities and movement are needed, despite the fact that Covid-19 deaths are, for the moment at least, continuing to decline slightly.

At a hearing held by the subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to discuss the Covid-19 vaccine program, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, said that the US could have a vaccine against the virus by the end of the year, with 300 million doses becoming available in 2021, the so-called “Operation Warp Speed.”

“That’s really a stretch goal, but it’s the right goal for the American people,” said Collins, who added that he was optimistic about available therapies such as the drug Remdesivir – with Washington buying almost the entire production of the medication through September – along with steroids, monoclonal antibodies and anticoagulants.

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, does not seem to be intimidated by the magnitude of the crisis besetting the state and on Wednesday insisted that the virus “doesn’t like” heat and humidity, calling on the public to get out in the open air during the July 4 weekend, which begins on Friday.

The governor also has begun calling on the public to wear facemasks, although some conservatives are still not interested in complying with that request.

In Alabama, authorities on Thursday raised the alarm over the increase in so-called “Covid parties” among young people, where partygoers put money into the pot and compete to see who will be the first to contract the virus with the aim of pocketing the cash.

Meanwhile, in New York state, authorities are waiting on court orders to force certain young people to provide information about who they have been in contact with as tracers seek to investigate a virus outbreak linked to a party.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose state was one of the first to restrict activities due to the pandemic but which began reopening in May, on Thursday announced details of the new restrictions being imposed on gathering in closed spaces, including bars and movie theaters, in 19 counties.

Newsom said that with the Independence Day weekend coming up he urged people to wear facemasks and follow social distancing guidelines, especially on beaches.

Arizona this week closed public pools, bars, gyms and theaters due to the increase in virus cases and after in May US President Donald Trump praised the state for its economic reopening.

Colorado and Michigan, which have had more success at containing the pandemic, have rescinded their plans to allow bars to open, despite the fact that in many counties July 4 had been set as the date for achieving some kind of “new normal.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that the public needs to act responsibly to ensure that the state doesn’t undo the progress it’s made if they want authorities to be in a position to reopen the schools in the fall.

All this raises fears that the US economy, which created five million jobs in June, adding to the 2.5 million created in May, is not really on the road toward recovering the 20 million jobs destroyed during the pandemic, many of which have disappeared for good.

If July becomes a step backward along the path to recovering from the pandemic – and given the fears that a new Covid-19 spike is in store for the autumn along with the seasonal flu, a double whammy that could hit the country’s most vulnerable population very hard – the US economy could be up against an ominous scenario.

All this comes in conjunction with unemployment at 11 percent and projections for the US GDP to contract by 6.5 percent in 2020, according to the forecast made in June by the Federal Reserve.

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