States Announce New Mandates As COVID-19 Cases Rise Sharply In The U.S.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The numbers are staggering. On Friday, nearly 185,000 new coronavirus infections were confirmed, and 1,431 Americans died of that virus the same day. The reach of the virus is horrific - coast to coast, in rural and urban communities. Will Stone covers the pandemic for NPR. Will, thanks for being with us.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: Of course, Scott.
SIMON: We know the numbers are staggering. Let's hear from you about the scale.
STONE: Yeah. Even for those of us who watch these numbers daily, it's been a shocking week. It took the U.S. a long time to reach 100,000 cases in a single day. That just happened last week. And now we're already averaging about 140,000 cases a day. The speed it's rising, it doesn't seem like 200,000 is that far off. And just to put that in perspective, that would be like everybody in Salt Lake City getting infected every day. So cases have risen close to 80% nationwide since the beginning of the month. And now the number of people in the hospital for COVID is close to 70,000, and that's well above the peak in the spring and summer.
SIMON: What are the options for response that experts see? Is it going to require more than mask-wearing and social distancing?
STONE: If everyone did that, it would still go a long way. Modelers at the University of Washington estimate mask use is close to 70%. And if it bumped up to 95%, that could save nearly 70,000 lives by March. Remember; there are still quite a few states without a universal mask mandate. But the reality is, states may also need to shut down or at least put in place more restrictions.
SIMON: You mentioned more restrictions, but does that suggest full lockdowns like we saw in the spring?
STONE: Well, no one wants to see those sweeping shutdowns of the economy again - with the impact on jobs, on people's health, the list goes on. So states are hoping there is a middle ground, but they're running out of options. New Mexico just did a stay-at-home order. Here's the governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, pleading with people who might be infected to take it seriously.
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MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: You may not - you shall not - do not go to work in an essential business. People are going to work. You are spreading this virus, and it's out of control.
STONE: And more states are moving in this direction. Oregon has a partial lockdown. And in the northeast, parts of California, restaurants and other businesses are closing.
SIMON: And based on our experience of several months now, does that help bring the situation under control?
STONE: The people I've spoken to hope it will at least slow the spread to relieve the pressure on hospitals in the short term. But the fact is, the U.S. doesn't have a coordinated national strategy, so states are really backed into a corner. This is what Dr. Michael Mina at Harvard sees playing out as we head further into the winter.
MICHAEL MINA: We're going to see sputtering of shutdowns in the same way that we kind of saw only haphazard shutdowns in March, April and May. And my concern is that this is going to lead to the worst of all options, where we're going to have massive economic destruction and the virus is barely going to be dented at a national level.
STONE: So Mina has advocated for a nationwide rapid testing program, where people can easily check their status, but that hasn't come to pass. And he says a national lockdown for four to six weeks could help pump the brakes, but again, the federal government needs to be involved to make it work. And right now, hospitals are in crisis and in many states say they're nearing capacity.
SIMON: Reporter Will Stone, thanks very much.
STONE: Thank you.
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