For many states and counties in the U.S., the dark days of the April coronavirus pandemic unfolded on their television screens, not on the doorstep. But now some places that seem to have avoided the worst are seeing a surge of infection as concerns shift from big cities to rural areas.
While much of the concern that the United States is entering a dangerous new phase has been in the major Sunbelt states reporting thousands of new cases each day – such as Texas and Florida – the troubling trend is also occurring in places like Kansas, where there are more cattle than people.
In early June, Kansas appeared to be controlling the outbreak, but the number of cases reported daily has more than doubled in recent weeks. On June 5, the seven-day average for new daily cases fluctuated around 96; on Friday that figure was 211.
Idaho and Oklahoma have seen similarly large increases, albeit from low assumptions. In Oklahoma, the seven-day average for daily new cases climbed from about 81 on June 5 to 376 on Friday, three weeks later. During the same period, Idaho’s average jumped from about 40 to 160.
Many rural counties in California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida, among others, more than doubled their confirmed cases in a week, from June 19 to Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Lassen County, California, went from just nine cases to 172, and Hot Spring County, Arkansas, went from 46 cases to 415; both peaks were attributed to outbreaks in prisons. The number of cases in McDonald County, Missouri has more than tripled after Tyson Foods conducted tests at a chicken factory there.
Missouri itself sees a troubling trend, with confirmed cases up 16% over the past week. A spike in Kansas City convinced Mayor Quinton Lucas to instruct company employees and patrons to wear masks when a distance of 6 feet (about 2 meters) is not possible.
“The number of cases in Kansas City continues to rise and we are taking every possible measure to ensure public health and safety,” he said Friday.
According to Johns Hopkins, the daily number of confirmed infections in the US rose to a record high of 45,300 on Friday, overshadowing the previous record of 40,000.
While the increase is due in part to extensive testing, experts say there is ample evidence that the pest is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher rates of virus testing returning positive.
Deaths run at around 600 a day, down from a peak of about 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts doubt that deaths will return to that level due to advances in treatment and because many infections occur in younger adults, who survive more often than older ones.
The virus becomes responsible for approximately 125,000 deaths and nearly 2.5 million confirmed infections across the country in the US, according to Johns Hopkins’ census. But health officials believe that the actual number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed nearly half a million lives with nearly 10 million cases.
The revival in the US is worrying abroad. The European Union appears to be almost certain that Americans will be barred from entering the bloc, which is currently setting new travel rules, in the short term, EU diplomats confirmed on Saturday.
But the US is not alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. India reported more than 18,000 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to more than half the million, the fourth highest worldwide after the US, Brazil and Russia.
The German authorities extended the blockage in a western region of about 500,000 people last week, after approximately 1,300 slaughterhouse workers tested positive for COVID-19 in an effort to prevent the outbreak from spreading over the area.
“The risk of the virus is still serious,” Merkel said. “It’s easy to forget because Germany has survived the crisis so far, but that doesn’t mean we are protected, the risk has been averted; that is not the case, as shown by these regional outbreaks. ”
Elsewhere, Egypt and Britain said they would ease virus control while China and South Korea fought smaller outbreaks in their capitals.
Britain was expected to remove a 14-day quarantine requirement for people returning from overseas to allow for summer holiday trips. Only travelers from “red” areas, places with a high COVID-19 content, will be told to isolate themselves. A full list of countries will be published next week.
Egypt lifted many restrictions on Saturday against the coronavirus pandemic and reopened cafes, clubs, gyms and theaters after more than three months of closure, despite a continued upward trend in new infections.
Authorities in other countries proceeded more cautiously: the Indian city of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state, announced a new two-week closing from Monday, with curfew and weekend closures in the rest of the state. The death toll in India has reached 15,685.
China saw the number of cases increase a day after authorities said they expect an outbreak to be controlled in Beijing in the near future. The National Health Commission reported 17 new cases in the country’s capital, most in a week, under 21 nationwide.
South Korea, where a revival last month threatens to obliterate the country’s previous success, reported 51 new cases, including 35 in the Seoul metropolitan area. Officials, concerned about the fragile economy, have resisted calls to restore restrictions in April.
Australia braced itself for more imported issues when citizens return home. This weekend, approximately 300 people are expected to arrive from Mumbai, India, and others are expected to follow from South America and Indonesia. A state health official said he is preparing for an infection of 5 to 10% of returnees.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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