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Restrictions Return as COVID Surges Across the US

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

UPDATED November 16, 2020 // This story was updated with more states adding restrictions.

With the coronavirus setting new records every day, more restrictions such as statewide face mask mandates are being imposed — as governors who at first resisted the public health measures change their minds and others re-impose restrictions that had been lifted.

“This week, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States accelerated again, driving record numbers of cases and hospitalizations as healthcare systems around the country warned that they are approaching a breaking point,” the authors of a COVID Tracking Project blog wrote Thursday.

“Cases are up 41%, hospitalizations up 20%, and deaths up 23%. States reported 875,401 new cases this week; 1 in 378 Americans tested positive for COVID-19 this week.”

Some of the most alarming statistics from the COVID Tracking Project:

  • The nation recorded 153,496 new coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Thursday, breaking the old record set Wednesday. Twenty-seven states set records this week for new cases reported.

  • COVID-related hospitalizations set a record, with 67,096 people hospitalized Thursday. That’s double the number of 2 weeks ago.

  • The national 7-day average of deaths has gone over 1000 per day — the highest death rate since the coronavirus surge of the summer.

  • It took barely a week for the US to go from 10 million cases to 11 million.

Overall, the United States has more confirmed infections (11.04 million) and coronavirus-related deaths (over 246,000) than any other nation in the world.

While all sections of the nation are dealing with the virus, the Midwest has been hit the hardest in recent months.

As North Dakota hospitals strain under the load of more coronavirus patients, Gov. Doug Burgum reversed himself Friday and imposed a statewide face mask order along with other restrictions.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” Burgum said in a news release. “Tonight, we’re announcing four measures designed to reduce the spread of infections in our communities to protect our most vulnerable and to ensure hospital capacity.”

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who had resisted a statewide face mask mandate, changed course. As the test positivity rate went over 50% and more than 1000 people were hospitalized with COVID, she ordered Iowans to wear masks at large gatherings and at hair salons, barber shops, and other personal service businesses.

Youth sports are still allowed, but now only two spectators per athlete can attend.

“I’m here to tell Iowans I need your help,” she said. “If you want to keep our businesses open and you want to keep our kids in school, if you want to make sure that we have hospitals and long-term care facilities and we have clinics that can treat not only COVID, but other individuals that have serious health conditions, then we all have to buckle down and take this serious.”

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person classes, closed restaurants to indoor dining, and stopped organized sports. While less intensive than the restrictions Whitmer ordered in the spring, the new ones — which begin Wednesday and will last 3 weeks — are extensive, CBS reported.

The state health department has ordered issue rules that ban indoor residential gatherings of more than two households, restricts outdoor gatherings to 25 people, and closes theaters, bowling alleys, and indoor water parks. Gyms and pools can stay open for individual exercise but not group classes.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine described a dire situation in which 3000 people in the state were hospitalized with the coronavirus, with more than 700 in intensive care units. He said 104 people died of virus-related reasons in the first week of November alone.

“If we don’t change this, Ohio won’t be able to provide appropriate care for COVID patients or for Ohioans who require other emergency care for things like accidents, strokes, and heart attacks,” he said in a news release. “Hospitals will again be forced to postpone important, but less urgent, care.”

DeWine extended the statewide face mask mandate with new requirements, such as making each business responsible for ensuring that customers and employees wear masks.

He also put new limits on social gatherings that effectively prohibit dancing at wedding receptions and birthday parties. The state now requires “open congregate areas” to be closed, and people must stay seated unless they’re eating or drinking.

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert declared a 2-week state of emergency this week and issued a statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks in public. He said the move was necessary to keep from overloading hospitals.

“Lives are at risk as COVID-19 cases surge and we report record hospitalizations and new deaths day after day,” he said. “Our hospitals are full.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a travel advisory asking anyone arriving from other states or countries to self-quarantine for 14 days. He asked all residents to avoid nonessential travel.

Even New York state, which appeared to have tamped down the spread of the virus, put new rules in place after an uptick in cases and hospitalizations.

Starting at 10 p.m. Friday, all restaurants, bars, gyms, and fitness centers must close at 10 p.m., though food delivery and pickup can continue after 10 p.m. Indoor and outdoor gatherings must be limited to no more than 10 people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that if these new limits don’t work, he may have to shut down businesses again.

More schools are sticking with remote learning — or switching to it.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District announced Thursday that all face-to-face learning will end until at least January 11 because of a climbing positivity rate.

“The priority at this point is physical safety,” the system said in a news release. The school system has about 51,000 students.  

In Philadelphia, the public schools had planned to bring students and teachers back to the classroom at the end of this month. That idea was scotched because the coronavirus is still surging.

“There is a concern that those numbers will only rise in the coming weeks as people gather for the holidays, the weather gets colder, and the air gets drier,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The school system has about 120,000 students, the large majority of whom had already opted for at-home learning. Only about 10,000 students were affected by the plan to not reopen classrooms, The Inquirer said.  

In Boston, public schools have been fully remote since October 21. On Thursday, Mayor Marty Walsh tweeted that the schools will stay that way for the time being.

Schools have remained open in New York City, and students and staff have reported low infection rates, The New York Times reported, but Mayor Bill de Blasio is thinking about closing classrooms because the city’s overall COVID transmission rate is going up.

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