While protests calling for systemic change to combat structural racism in the U.S. are held nationwide, cases of the coronavirus have quietly risen in some parts of the country.
Southwest states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, which had eased social distancing mandates earlier this spring, are reporting an increase in confirmed cases and hospitalizations.
As protests decrying the death of George Floyd and police brutality continue across the U.S., health officials fear a resurgence in cases may loom on the horizon.
The Washington Post reports that 14 states and Puerto Rico have this month recorded their highest seven-day averages of new coronavirus infections. Included in these states are Texas and Arizona, but also California, where previously strict lockdowns are beginning to be lifted.
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Other states that made the list are North Carolina, Oregon, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah and Tennessee.
California has shown a 1.9 percent increase in new cases, jumping to 131,319 statewide, with 4,653 deaths, per state health data. Hospitalizations have also gone up by 27 cases since Saturday.
The San Jose Mercury News writes that the current seven-day case average rings in at 2,694.43, a jump from 1,872.71 in May.
The majority of cases come from Los Angeles County, followed by Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
In addition to case growth, a major concern is hospitals being able to handle an influx of patients. In Arizona, the state health director issued a letter urging hospitals to prepare for more patients. Texas, meanwhile, reportedly has prepared thousands of beds and ventilators for a surge in critical coronavirus patients.
Even as hospitalizations in California have increased, ICU admittances have declined.
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Experts believe these upticks are primarily the result of easing restrictions. Former Arizona Health Department Director Will Humble told Fox News that the rise in cases is mainly due to increased community spread resulting from pre-pandemic behaviors rather than increases in testing.
Sara Cody, a county health officer for Santa Clara County in California, agreed.
“We are beginning to see a little bit of an uptick in our hospitalizations which likely reflects the easing we did in the middle of May,” Cody told the county Board of Supervisors on Monday.
University of California-Berkeley infectious diseases specialist John Swartzberg emphasized that paying close attention to hospitalizations is a good indicator of next steps the government needs to take regarding lockdowns. He adds to the chorus of experts who fear the recent protests will have an impact on the pandemic.
“We have the concern that two weeks from the beginning of the peaceful protests, that we’ll see more cases,” Swartzberg said. “Now’s not the time to continue to open up more. Now’s the time we should be pausing, at the worst, and at the best retracting a little bit until we see where we’re going.”
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