New States Where Conronavirus Is Spreading Rapidly : Consider This from NPR First New York, then the Sun Belt. Now, new states like Illinois and Mississippi are urging residents to wear masks and take the virus more seriously.

Bars remain one of the most dangerous places to be during the pandemic. Reporter Will Stone explains why, from Seattle.

While Michigan and New York saw similar spikes in cases near the beginning of the pandemic, New York has flattened the curve. Michigan hasn't. Reporters Kate Wells and Fred Mogul discuss what lessons can be learned from the disparity.

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The Patchwork Pandemic Continues As New States Approach A 'Danger Point'

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Back in the spring, the global epicenter of the pandemic was New York City. There were weeks when the city averaged more than 5,000 new cases of coronavirus a day. This week, the city has been averaging less than 300 a day. But as things in New York have gotten better, we, of course, have spent a ton of time talking about outbreaks in other parts of the country - Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. And the virus hasn't stopped moving.


JB PRITZKER: We do not want the state or any region in the state moving backward. So I'm imploring people to follow the guidelines, to follow the mitigations that we've put forward.

MCEVERS: In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said last week not enough people are wearing masks. People there are getting the virus at churches, softball tournaments, parties and, the governor said, from packing into bars.


PRITZKER: We're at a danger point, everybody. Pay attention. Now is the moment to wear your mask properly. And for people who aren't wearing masks, please start now. It is never too late. Start now.

MCEVERS: Coming up, why even now, almost six months into this pandemic, the fact that people in some parts of the country are taking the virus less seriously than others is actually helping it spread.

This is CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Wednesday, August 5.


MCEVERS: If you don't live there, you probably haven't heard a lot about Mississippi during the pandemic. But researchers at Harvard say Mississippi could soon lead the country in new cases per capita. Only Florida is doing worse.


TATE REEVES: I believe in my heart that we've got to get our kids back in school.

MCEVERS: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican in a very red state.


REEVES: I know that I want to see college football in the fall.

MCEVERS: He actually delayed the start of school in some counties this week and said masks are now mandatory statewide.


REEVES: Wearing a mask, as irritating as it can be - and I promise you I hate it more than anybody watching today - it is critical.

MCEVERS: At least 30 other states have already done that. And in Jackson this week, Mississippi's largest city by far, bars closed for indoor service.


REEVES: If you wear a mask, if you socially distance, if we do the little things, it will make a difference.


MCEVERS: Of course, in so many cities and states, when cases flare up, we're learning that bars are one place that can drive the spread of the virus. That's why Friday nights at a place called The Beer Junction in West Seattle are not what they used to be.


ALLISON HERZOG: It would be very lively. It is weird to come in here and not feel that vibrancy.

MCEVERS: Allison Herzog owns the place. She shut down in the spring, then reopened in late June.


HERZOG: I could hear people laughing at the bar, and that was so - it touched my heart to hear. And it just felt like something was normal again.

MCEVERS: But that didn't last. Herzog was asked to close some indoor services again recently. And she says, yeah, as hard as that was, she gets it.


HERZOG: I trust that they know what they're doing, that they will open when it's responsible and scale back when it's responsible.

MCEVERS: Herzog talked to reporter Will Stone. Here's Will.


WILL STONE: The coronavirus is a social virus. Across the country, dozens - in some cases hundreds - of infections have been traced back to a single bar. What makes your local pub or nightclub so appealing is also what makes it so risky. There's drinking, eating, shouting over loud music, dancing, laughing.

OGECHIKA ALOZIE: If you were to create a petri dish and say, how can we spread this the most, it would be cruise ships, jails and prisons, factories, and then it would be bars.

STONE: That's Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist in El Paso, Texas. Alozie worked with the Texas Medical Association to create a COVID risk scale for common activities, like going to the movies or a sports game. But what ranked the worst of all - going to a bar.

ALOZIE: The reality is, to drink, you can't wear a mask. So you're taking off your mask. Lots of people, tight spaces - and as we all know, alcohol is a disinhibitor.

STONE: People are touching tables, glasses, bottles, each other. An outbreak linked to a bar in southwest Washington shows how even the best plans can go awry. For karaoke night, the staff spaced the tables, checked temperatures, even put up plexiglass near the singers. Dr. Alan Melnick is the county health officer who oversaw the investigation.

ALAN MELNICK: And you're asking the customers who are drinking and doing karaoke to follow the physical distancing and masking requirements. So that was challenging in this particular situation.

STONE: A few weeks later, close to 20 customers and employees had been infected. Because bars are so high-risk, some states have taken a very cautious approach. Other states opened them up only to shut them down as cases surged this summer. But some bar owners want to stay open. In Arizona, more than 60 bars are suing to overturn the governor's order to shut them down. Ilan Wurman is their attorney. He says if restaurants can serve alcohol and stay open late, why can't bars?

ILAN WURMAN: Either treat them all equally and shut them all down or treat them all equally and allow them all to conform to reasonable health measures. But what you can't do is pick out a criteria, something like alcohol. So it's - that's totally arbitrary, and it totally discriminates.

STONE: All over the country, bar owners are suing. Steve Smith owns a handful of honky-tonks in Nashville, Tenn., who argue they are being unfairly singled out.

STEVE SMITH: We've been targets, and it's wrong. We are citizens of the United States. We're small-business people. And I've been doing this for 44 years.

STONE: So what kind of chances do these lawsuits have? Georgetown Law professor Lawrence Gostin says historically, the courts have sided with public health.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: As long as it has a rationale and it's not singling out a bar because it disfavors bars, then it's absolutely clear that they have the right. In fact, they have the duty to do it.

STONE: And yet it's this duty that has upended business for bar owners like Seattle's Allison Herzog.

HERZOG: I lose a lot of sleep over it. I wake up, and I think every day, what am I going to do to keep going?

STONE: Herzog says The Beer Junction just hit its 10-year anniversary. Instead of a big blowout, they handed out some cans to go and kept things quiet.


MCEVERS: Reporter Will Stone in Seattle.

Closing restaurants and bars for indoor service might be painful, but it's also one of the few things that seem to separate two states with different outbreaks, Michigan and New York. Those two states looked pretty similar in the spring, but now New York is keeping the curve flat, and Michigan isn't. Kate Wells at Michigan Radio and Fred Mogul at WNYC in New York talked about why with my colleague Stacey Vanek Smith.




FRED MOGUL: Hi there, Stacey.

VANEK SMITH: So, Fred, let's start with you. Back in March and April, we were talking a lot about New York, particularly New York City, as a place where coronavirus was just raging out of control. Now it has one of the lowest infection rates among all the states. So what did the city and the state do to turn things around so dramatically?

MOGUL: Well, New York got off to a somewhat slow start phasing in its lockdown around March 16. That's partly how the disease came to rage out of control, as you say. But one of the main things that's made a difference is what New York didn't do, I think. It didn't open back up very quickly. You've seen a very, very gradual opening, especially here in New York City, where about half the state's population lives and where most of the disease had been concentrated. Even now, gatherings remain very limited. Resuming indoor restaurant dining has been postponed indefinitely. And bars, for instance, can only open outside only if they serve food and only stay open until 11 p.m.

VANEK SMITH: So, Kate, Fred mentioned that here in New York, things are opening very gradually. The people here still can't sit down inside of restaurants and bars. How does that compare to Michigan?

WELLS: You can sit down in restaurants inside here. You know, for most of Michigan, that stay-at-home order ended on June 1. And then a few weeks after that, restaurants, bars, hair salons started reopening indoors statewide. And then a few weeks after that, that's when we start seeing these cases tick up, although I should say, you know, even now, this is still nowhere near where we were during the first surge in the spring. It's nothing like what places in Texas and Mississippi are experiencing. But we are seeing dozens of new outbreaks throughout the state each week, often in nursing homes, social gatherings, workplaces, restaurants and just a plain old jump in community spread across the state.

VANEK SMITH: Both Michigan and New York have Democratic governors, but they're operating in really different political climates. Fred, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not really faced much pushback here.

MOGUL: No. Republicans have grumbled some about the pace of reopening. There actually is a fairly broad swath of New York that did vote for Donald Trump in 2016. But in the 2018 midterm elections, the GOP lost control of the state Senate. So there is a very weakened Republican presence here, not a lot of pushback.

WELLS: Yeah, whereas here in Michigan, things have been much more heated and still is pretty heated going into the fall and the election, with Michigan, of course, being a key swing state. And during the shutdown, you know, you saw those armed protests at the Capitol in Lansing. The state health department says they are still seeing a lot of pushback about the mask mandate. And these outbreaks have been popping up.

VANEK SMITH: And, Fred, what is the situation like on the ground here in New York?

MOGUL: Right. In a state of 20 million people, you have about 500 new cases daily and about that number total hospitalized. And this week so far, we've seen a three-day average of three deaths. I don't want to give the impression this is a mask-compliance social distancing paradise. You have seen big parties, large-scale bar crawls, raves. The other day, a party boat, a booze cruise, took off with 170 passengers around New York Harbor. And here's what Gov. Cuomo had to say about it.


ANDREW CUOMO: What if one of those people on that cruise gets sick and dies? What if one of those people on that cruise gets sick and go homes - goes home and gives it to a parent who dies?

MOGUL: Cuomo says the state police, the state liquor authority have been working double time to enforce laws. They're giving out hundreds of citations. But he's calling on local officials and local police departments to do more. He says they have to do a better job busting violators.

VANEK SMITH: And what about in Michigan, Kate? What has the response been as cases have started increasing again?

WELLS: Yeah, so on the government side, there are some increasingly strict reporting and testing requirements around nursing homes, agriculture workers, processing plants. Bars aren't allowed to do indoor service anymore. Some individual counties have taken some stricter measures, but it's nothing like the shutdown that we saw in the spring. And one of the key differences, then, is who is getting sick now as opposed to the first surge. Right now, it is largely people under the age of 30.

But I'm also hearing two major frustrations from local health officials - one, contact tracers are having a much harder time reaching younger people. They are not calling back as often. Sometimes they don't want to cooperate - and two, more and more frustration around testing delays and shortages in some parts of this state. You know, the national labs are swamped. They're taking as long as three weeks. And some of these local and regional labs are also just inundated with demand. And of course, a big part of the plan to go back to school in the fall is to get people tested.


MCEVERS: Kate Wells at Michigan Radio and Fred Mogul at WNYC in New York talking to my colleague Stacey Vanek Smith. Other reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered. For more news, download the NPR One app or listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station makes this podcast possible.

I'm Kelly McEvers. We'll be back with more tomorrow.

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