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Officials fear Midwest poised to become next coronavirus hot spot

Officials fear Midwest poised to become next coronavirus hot
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The “Sun Belt surge” is dying down and nationwide coronavirus counts are declining but there are troubling signs in the Midwest, raising fears of a “third wave.”

Officials said a spike in Iowa City was attributable in part to students returning to the state university, while Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly decried “an alarming trend in the wrong direction” and said that no county in her state is virus free after cases increased over the weekend.

In Illinois, meanwhile, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that Will and Kankakee counties must pump the brakes on their reopening plans because the percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive exceeds 8%. They must close indoor bar and dining services but can maintain outdoor seating with certain precautions.

“This is a red alert for everyone who works and lives here, and it demands a renewed effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the Democratic governor said.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pleading with Midwest denizens not to get “stuck” after the Northeast and the Sun Belt beat back earlier struggles with the virus.

“We don’t need to have a third wave in the heartland right now,” Dr. Robert Redfield said last week.

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The seven-day rolling average of reported cases is at 42,700 per day — a far higher amount than in June, though an improvement from two weeks ago, when the nation was recording an average of over 54,000 cases per day, according to a New York Times tracker.

States like Arizona, Florida and Texas, which generated headlines as part of a Sun Belt crisis, have seen steady declines in their rolling averages over the same period.

Some heartland states are trending in the wrong direction, though, with Iowa at roughly 570 cases per day versus a rolling average of close to 470 two weeks ago. South Dakota’s daily caseload is relatively low but has steadily increased over last two weeks, from a rolling average of about 90 to roughly 150.

Kansas is up to 490 from around 400, prompting Ms. Kelly to warn that schools might have to delay football to spring and play low-contact sports like cross country, tennis and golf in the fall.

“We’re seeing more cases build in the Midwest and the West. And the concern is that if there is sort of a third wave, a third iteration of the national epidemic, it could be more diffuse spread across a broader section of the Midwest and the West — because cases are building in those parts of the country. And that’s what’s concerning people right now,” former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS over the weekend.

Experts said it is not surprising to see the virus pop up in new places as the pandemic continues, given the administration’s reliance on individual states to control the spread.

“Because the United States never got full control of this pandemic, we are going to see roving hot spots where the virus slips out of control because many states have not invested in the testing, tracing, and isolating infrastructure that is needed to keep the virus at bay,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

President Trump, meanwhile, is trying to move beyond the virus itself and focus on the recovery as he hits the campaign trail. He kicked off the Republican National Convention by faulting governors in states that had problems early on, saying it was their responsibility to be prepared and well-stocked with supplies.

“Nobody wants to say that but it’s supposed to work that way — federalist, it’s supposed to work that way. The governors are supposed to do it,” he said in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday.

Mr. Trump has singled out Democratic swing-state Govs. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Roy Cooper of North Carolina as he hits the campaign trail, accusing them of keeping their economies closed for too long and quipping that they will reopen them Nov. 4.

Hoping to mitigate economic woe, Mr. Wolf on Tuesday said the state legislature should legalize recreational marijuana and use a chunk of the proceeds to prop up small businesses hurt by the virus. It is part of a fall legislative agenda that calls on state lawmakers to authorize hazard pay for frontline workers and provide more funding for their protective equipment, while extending $225 million in forgivable loans to small businesses.

He wants to give the hospitality industry a break on alcohol taxes so the sector can more quickly recover.

The U.S. has just over 4% of the world’s population but over a fifth of recorded COVID-19 deaths, with over 177,000 out of 815,000.

Still, some countries that wrangled the virus under control are seeing flare-ups.

Schools in Seoul were forced to move from in-person classes to online learning as South Korea now has to crack down to prevent a nationwide crisis. South Korea tallied triple-digit caseloads for nearly two weeks as part of an explosion in cases after it appeared to get the virus under control in early March.

Hoping to avoid another trouble spot in the U.S., administration officials began warning Midwest states in late July about troubling trends in the percentage of tests returning positive.

Dr. Redfield said there are Midwest states in a mid-level “yellow zone” where the positivity rate is between 5% and 10%, but “not falling.”

“So Middle America is getting stuck,” he said in a recent YouTube interview the JAMA Network, a collection of medical journals. “And this is why it’s so important for middle America to recognize the mitigation steps that we talked about masks, social distancing, hand washing, closing bars, being smart about crowds.”

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