CHICAGO/WASHINGTON • For a second week in a row, half a dozen US states face a surge in new coronavirus cases and rising hospitalisations, including an outbreak linked to a church in rural Oregon.
Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma reported record increases in new cases on Tuesday, after recording all-time highs last week. Nevada also reported its highest single-day tally of new cases, up from a previous high on May 23.
At the Tucson Medical Centre in Arizona on Monday, just a single intensive care unit (ICU) bed was available, with the other 19 beds filled.
“ICU to be expanded, hopefully, in (the) coming days,” Dr Steven Oscherwitz, an infectious disease expert at the hospital, said in a tweet on Monday night.
“Not sure where people needing ICU care will be able to go, since most AZ (Arizona) hospitals are pretty full now.”
North Carolina reported record coronavirus hospitalisations on Tuesday with about 74 per cent of its hospital and ICU beds filled, according to a state website.
Health officials in many states attribute the spike to businesses reopening and Memorial Day gatherings late last month.
Many states are also bracing themselves for a possible increase in cases from tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets to end racial injustice and police brutality for the past three weeks.
In Oregon, health officials are trying to contain an outbreak tied to the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church in Union County.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that a video on the church’s Facebook page on May 24 showed hundreds of people standing close together singing.
Large gatherings were not permitted under the state’s reopening plan at that time. The video has since been deleted, it said.
Across the United States, 17 states saw new cases rise last week, led by Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma, according to a Reuters analysis.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where President Donald Trump plans to hold an indoor campaign rally on Saturday, new cases rose 68 per cent to 1,081 in the second week of this month, while the rate of people testing positive increased to 4 per cent from 2 per cent the previous week.
Vice-President Mike Pence said officials were considering other venues, possibly outdoor, for the Tulsa event.
The virus spreads far more efficiently in enclosed spaces.
The event will be Mr Trump’s first campaign rally since the coronavirus shutdown. The campaign said it had received more than one million ticket requests.
A campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the campaign is considering other areas adjacent to the arena, so as to allow the President to address even more people.
Questions about logistics for the rally and its public health implications mounted as an Oklahoma judge denied a petition for a court order to block the event until organisers adopt social distancing measures.
The lawsuit, filed by two Tulsa businesses and two immunocompromised city residents, said the prospect of assembling tens of thousands of shouting, chanting people inside an enclosed arena amounted to a “super-spreader” coronavirus event in the making.
“As currently planned, the event will endanger not only the health of guests in attendance… but the entire Tulsa community and any community to which the guests may afterward travel,” the lawsuit said.
Mr Pence acknowledged the health risks of bringing so many people together.
“We’re going to do the temperature screening and we’re going to provide hand sanitisers and provide masks for people (who) are attending.”
But he pushed back against talk of a second wave of infections, citing increased testing.
“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown,” he wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.
“We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”
More than 2.2 million people have been infected with the coronavirus in the US and over 119,000 have died from Covid-19, by far the most in the world.