June 24, 2020 2:25 am
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Categories: Bars and Nightclubs Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Coronavirus Reopenings Movies NY Times restaurants Shutdowns (Institutional) United States

DENVER — Soaring cases of the coronavirus are forcing cities and states across the country to halt plans to restart their economies and even reimpose earlier limits on public life, increasing worries that premature reopenings could lead to a second round of closures.

In Texas, which reported a record high of more than 5,000 new cases on Tuesday, the governor told local officials they could restrict outdoor gatherings to 100 people and urged residents to stay home. Maine officials called off plans to allow bars to resume serving drinks inside on July 1. The governor of Kansas said rising cases showed that the state was “not ready” to continue easing restrictions. And in parts of central Idaho, where coronavirus cases have exploded in recent weeks, bars are shutting down and gatherings of more than 50 people are again outlawed.

“We may have let our guard down a little bit,” said Julie Gibbs, the health officer in Riley County, Kan., home to Kansas State University, where officials said they would tighten restrictions on large gatherings after the county’s total virus cases increased by 50 percent over the past week.

With the number of new daily cases now rising in more than half of the United States, the debate over whether to reimpose restrictions or push ahead with reopening is creating divides between neighboring cities and states that mirror the scattershot responses that emerged as the country went into lockdown this year.

ImageA store worker in Kansas City, Kan., counted customers as they entered on Tuesday. The governor said rising cases showed that Kansas was “not ready” to continue easing restrictions.
Credit…Kendall Short for The New York Times

“There’s very little appetite among the American public to go backwards,” said Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “As reopenings started there were no plans for what would constitute a red flag to close things down. People just said, ‘We’re reopening, everything’s fine, let’s move ahead.’”

But public health experts who supported the original shutdowns now worry that governments will not be able to constrain the resurgent coronavirus with a blizzard of shifting restrictions that can change the moment a person crosses a city limit or state line.

Hundreds of city, county and state governments have created their own reopening plans, each with different “phases” of economic reopening and each with their rules for how many people can gather at a party, what portion of a restaurant’s tables can be full and when people must wear masks. The results can be a baffling patchwork, and one that residents are left to navigate on their own.

Much of the new tension over the safety of reopening is playing out in the West and South, where the numbers are getting worse, and has split along partisan lines.

The governors of Louisiana and Oregon, both Democrats, recently paused their plans to ease restrictions on businesses and public life, saying it was not yet safe to more fully reopen. And on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington ordered most people to wear face coverings in public.

“It is clear that Covid is alive and well in Louisiana, and as we see more people testing positive and admitted to hospitals, we simply are not ready to move to the next phase,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said, noting that about 90 percent of new cases were coming from spread in the community, not within nursing homes or other group living facilities.

But Republican governors in Florida, Arizona, Texas and other states grappling with rising daily case levels have resisted the prospect of locking down again.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has declined to require Texans to wear masks and said that locking down the state again would be a last resort. But on Tuesday he urged residents to stay home in an interview with the television station KBTX.

“Because the spread is so rampant right now, there is never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you do need to go out,” he said. “The safest place for you is at your home.”

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said he had “no plans to shut down Utah’s economy” after the state’s epidemiologist warned that the “only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown” and urged the governor to reimpose tougher limits on public life.

Shelby County, Tenn., which includes Memphis, was poised to ease its coronavirus restrictions to “phase three” last week, allowing businesses to operate at 75 percent of their normal capacity, but county leaders reconsidered as the number of active cases grew to more than 2,000. Since the start of the pandemic, about 8,000 people have been infected across the county, and 165 have died.

“We ramped up to reopen too quick,” said Tami Sawyer, a county commissioner who has urged the county to impose even tighter limitations. “We weren’t ready.”

Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

With guidance from governments hard to pin down, the burden of deciding whether to stay open or shut down again in the face of a positive coronavirus test is falling on individual businesses.

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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Restaurants, electronics retailers, salons and bakeries across the country have been reopening only to shut down weeks later after workers or customers report illnesses — a pattern that business owners fear will repeat itself for months until there is a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19.

In Arizona, Gila River Hotels & Casinos announced on Thursday that three reopened casinos would close again for two weeks because of rising coronavirus cases in the state.

In Idaho, the Boise Fry Company decided to shut down its six locations after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday — a wrenching decision after the business weathered more than two months of being closed and providing only takeout service.

“We were just starting to have a bit of momentum,” Blake Lingle, the restaurant’s owner, said. By Tuesday afternoon, three locations had opened yet again, and workers were deep-cleaning others.

But even as health officials imposed new restrictions on bars and nightclubs in Boise, conservative state legislators met on Tuesday to rail against what they called an infringement of freedoms because of the pandemic limits. Idaho reported 242 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its highest single-day tally, according to a New York Times database.

“What we’re seeing now is the effects of our earlier phases of reopening,” said Ben Ridenhour, a bio-mathematician and assistant professor at the University of Idaho who has modeled the virus’s course through the state. “It’s a little bit scary. The models are showing things are going to be getting worse unless we do something to rectify the situation.”

Credit…Greta Rybus for The New York Times

In Maine, Dewey Hasbrouck decided to impose his own restrictions at his restaurant, Moe’s Original BBQ, by delaying when he reopened the indoor dining room. While Maine is again allowing inside dining, Mr. Hasbrouck said he was not ready to take that step.

Just a week earlier, he closed his two locations in South Portland and Bangor after a part-time employee tested positive for the coronavirus. He has reopened the restaurants, but only for takeout and catering, he said.

“We’re still learning every day,” Mr. Hasbrouck said. “I want to make sure that we’re doing it in the safest way possible so I’m not rushing it.”

Jack Healy reported from Denver, Mitch Smith from Chicago and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio from New York. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas.