By Lisa Lambert and Maria Caspani
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States showed signs of shifting to the Midwest on Thursday while Sunbelt states were hopeful that new infections and deaths were starting to decline.
The COVID-19 outbreak was moving into Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska “because of vacations and other reasons of travel,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, told Fox News in an interview.
Ohio’s health department said the state had seen its highest single-day increase in infections since the pandemic started in January, which Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, told a news conference was “certainly not good news.”
In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers ordered residents to wear face coverings in public. Masks are recommended by many health experts, but some conservatives say such mandates violate the U.S. Constitution.
“While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what’s best for the people of our state, so that’s what I am going to do,” Evers, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Florida reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths for a third consecutive day on Thursday and Arizona also reported a record increase in fatalities for a single day, according to a Reuters tally. But reports of new cases have recently slowed in both states, along with California and Texas.
According to the temporary healthcare staffing platform NurseFly, demand for nurses in Arizona increased 75% in July over June.
“I’m trying to just maintain a healthy level of anxiety,” said Rachel Norton, a traveling intensive care unit nurse who was leaving Denver on Thursday for a one-month contract in Mesa, Arizona.
The surge has dampened the nation’s recovery from an economic crisis brought on by state and local lockdown orders that have thrown millions of Americans out of work, closed schools and shuttered entertainment and professional sports events.The United States remains the country most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with a death toll of more than 150,000.
Smoking outside a food bank in Chicago, 63-year-old William Hannah said the pandemic “has ruined me. I’m now jobless, homeless and waiting for my job to come back.”
Hannah worked as a cook at the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, before the NBA and NHL canceled games and entertainers halted events. “I got hope. It’s all I can do,” he said.
On Thursday, Commerce Department data for the second quarter showed the deepest contraction in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate, on Thursday became the latest high-profile death attributed to COVID-19.
Cain was diagnosed with the disease in late June after attending a Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally for President Donald Trump, where many attendees crowded together without wearing face masks. Cain tweeted a photo of himself at the event without a mask.
The U.S. outbreak initially centered on the northeastern region around New York, which still has by far the highest total of fatalities of any state, at more than 32,000.
On Thursday, Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Council health committee, said cases were rising again in Northeastern states, specifically New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“Now, for the first time since spring, cases are rising again in all three,” Levine wrote in a series of tweets. “NY is now an island within an island, with warning signs looming on all sides.”
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Karen Pierog in Chicago, Andrew Hay in Albuquerque, Susan Heavey and Andrea Shalal in Washington, D.C., Gabriella Borter in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)