All eyes are on New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S., but experts warn other areas of the country are at risk of becoming hot spots.
Cities in the South and Midwest, in particular, are in danger of becoming the next hot spots as data shows cases there are increasing rapidly and haven’t yet peaked.
“Every city is in danger of looking like the challenges we’ve seen in Wuhan, in Italy and in New York City,” Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a call with reporters Wednesday.
“There is no city anywhere in the world that can withstand an outbreak of coronavirus that will occur if there isn’t very, very rigorous physical distancing sheltering at home. So every city needs to be ready,” he said.
State and local governments around the country have mandated social distancing measures for weeks, which experts say is key to slowing the spread of the virus and preventing an influx of patients from overwhelming the health care system. But the aggressiveness of those measures varies from state to state.
Public health experts are exceedingly worried about Florida, where the governor waited until Wednesday to issue a stay-at-home order, weeks after several other states had done so. It doesn’t take effect until Friday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) let beaches in his state stay open for weeks, drawing bipartisan criticism.
The third most populous state also has one of the oldest populations, and studies have shown adults older than 65 are far more at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 than younger adults.
Earlier this month, DeSantis mandated that people arriving in his state from New York self-quarantine for 14 days. But experts said that didn’t address the likelihood that the virus had been spreading in the state since February.
“Miami and parts of Florida look very concerning,” former Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a webinar Wednesday.
The state had confirmed more than 8,000 cases as of Thursday, with large outbreaks centered in South Florida, including Miami.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has also moved slowly to mandate social distancing. There are more than 4,000 confirmed cases in Texas as of Thursday, but experts believe there could be many more undetected because of the lack of testing.
Outbreaks are largest in Dallas County and Harris County, which holds Houston. Both counties issued stay-at-home orders last week.
“Big, populous states in the Sunbelt like Texas, like Florida that have been very slow to act and is still being slow to act, they need to get more aggressive in the next 24-48 hours,” said Gottlieb, who is advising the White House in its response to the coronavirus. “Those states have the potential to be big epicenters of spread. They’re big populations, they have a lot of urban centers.”
Abbot issued an executive order Tuesday stating Texas should “avoid” nonessential activities such as eating or drink at bars, restaurants and visiting gyms. He clarified the next day that the order “requires all Texas to stay at home,” except for essential activities, such as grocery shopping.
Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders Trump officials privately question White House coronavirus death toll estimate: WaPo Birx warns holdout states about social distancing MORE, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, have specifically expressed concern this week about Chicago, Boston, New Orleans and Detroit, where confirmed cases are growing quickly.
“The dynamics of the outbreak in New Orleans are worrisome,” Fauci said this week, noting that the curve of the outbreak there is starting to resemble New York.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has expressed frustration at press conferences in recent days that residents aren’t following social distancing measures.
On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 9,150 confirmed cases, an increase of 2,726 from the previous day.
Edwards called the 42 percent jump “extremely upsetting” but said the increase “appears to be less a sign of new exponential growth and more a sign of a logjam from commercial labs.”
Experts are also worried about growing outbreaks in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The outbreak also doesn’t appear to be slowing yet in New Jersey, which has confirmed nearly 26,000 cases as of Thursday, including 537 deaths.
Michigan has the fourth-highest number of confirmed cases in the country with more than 9,300 as of Thursday, with most centered in Wayne County, which holds Detroit, and neighboring counties.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said Thursday the state “is in for a tough three, four, five, six weeks” based on modeling she has seen.
“The fact of the matter is we are nowhere near the end of COVID-19 in the state of Michigan,” she said at a press conference. “We are far from out of the emergency we find ourselves in.”