The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Officials warn they lack key resources to confront surge in coronavirus cases

Ahead of a stimulus spending fight between Senate Republicans and House Democrats, elected officials spoke on July 19 about the spread of the coronavirus. (Video: The Washington Post)

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations climb, state and local officials nationwide are sounding the alarm, warning that they are missing key resources to confront the surge.

They are weighing new restrictions and complaining of persistent backlogs in the mass-testing systems considered key to tracking and containing the virus, as the Trump administration seeks to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing and billions more that Republican lawmakers want to give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Labs in some places are taking a week or longer to provide test results, and health experts say such wait times render tests near-useless in controlling the virus’s rampant spread.

“The national testing scene is a complete disgrace,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said Sunday on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” adding that tests sent to out-of-state private labs were taking as long as nine days to return results.

Here are some other significant developments:

  • The United States’ seven-day average for new daily coronavirus cases has now increased for 41 straight days; on Sunday, that average was about 66,300. The country reported 518 new deaths in a day, the highest Sunday tally since the end of May. Four states — Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina — on Sunday set records for new known infections, while 14 states broke records for their average new cases.
  • Endangered GOP senators are under pressure as the Senate considers new virus measures. They face particular scrutiny over the impending expiration of an additional $600 per week in unemployment insurance by July 31, as 20 million to 30 million people remain out of work.
  • Six months after the coronavirus appeared in the United States, the nation’s ineffective response has shocked observers worldwide.
  • Worldwide, coronavirus-related deaths have surpassed 600,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the United States, deaths have started to rise in many states after declining nationally, with eight states on Sunday reporting a seven-day average in daily new fatalities more than 40 percent higher than a week ago.

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National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins acknowledged Sunday that “the average test delay is too long,” while Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that the country lacks “excess capacity that we can surge into these epidemic cities.” Testing companies were falling behind not just in hotbeds such as California, Florida and Texas, he said, “but now they’re pulling testing out of other regions, and you’re seeing delays there.”

“We’ve had plenty of time to get this right,” he said.

In Florida — which has reported at least 10,000 new cases on 12 separate days this month — many hospitals have maxed out their intensive care unit beds for adults, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and just over 1,200 adult ICU beds were listed as open statewide Sunday. More than 80,000 of the state’s approximately 350,000 known cases have come during the past seven days.

In South Carolina, which on Sunday announced record-high new daily infections, lawmakers have asked military installations to help speed testing and reporting of the results. “This is an all-hands-on-deck time for us,” state Sen. Tom Davis (R) tweeted this weekend.

Florida and South Carolina are among the states where governors — left to make their own choices about restrictions and reopening — have been more reluctant to impose sweeping economic shutdowns aimed at curbing the virus’s spread. As cases, deaths and hospitalizations trend upward in many states, leaders are facing renewed pressure to take painful measures.

In California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has progressively rolled back reopening with statewide or near-statewide business closures, the mayor of Los Angeles warned Sunday that the city is “on the brink” of another stay-at-home order.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the city reopened too quickly and called for patience as businesses close again. In the past week, Los Angeles County has reported its highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Garcetti said “a lot of things went wrong” leading up to the dismal numbers but focused his blame on what he called a vacuum of national leadership.

“They said this was under control,” he said of federal leaders. “They said this would be over soon. And I think when leaders say that, people react, and they do the wrong things.”

Collins, the NIH director, said he thinks the public did not take the virus seriously enough.

“Why are we doing so poorly?” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Tough restrictions in the pandemic’s early U.S. hot spots — the tri-state area around New York — helped reduce transmission of the virus significantly in those devastated regions, he noted.

“But meanwhile, the rest of the country, perhaps imagining this was just a New York problem, kind of went about their business, didn’t — really pay that much attention to CDC’s recommendations about the phases necessary to open up safely and jumped over some of those hoops,” Collins said.

In an interview that aired July 19, "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace asked President Trump about the coronavirus, upcoming elections and civil unrest. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump continued to dismiss concerns about the spike in infections, telling Fox News Channel in an interview aired Sunday that he would be “right eventually” about his oft-repeated prediction that the virus would “disappear” and saying that “many of those cases shouldn’t even be cases.”

“Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day,” the president told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.”

Trump defends bungled handling of coronavirus with falsehoods and dubious claims

Although young people make up an increasing share of new cases, the virus has affected people in all age groups. Health officials are saying the country could soon surpass its peak in covid-19 hospitalizations from April, although they also say that doctors have gotten better at treating the disease and that this has helped push down intensive care unit admissions as a share of total hospital admissions.

With that milestone looming, some states say they’re cut off from key information. Missouri authorities wrote online that because of an “abrupt change in data measures and the reporting platform issued by the White House,” the state and its hospital association will be temporarily “unable to access critical hospitalization data.”

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), whose district encompasses parts of Miami with widespread infections, pushed back on the notion that the new cases were limited to young, healthy people and weren’t a cause for concern.

“It’s the working poor, it’s seniors, it’s now young people, and it’s totally out of control,” Shalala, a former health and human services secretary, said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “We need to close down again. … That’s our worst nightmare, and we’re going to have to do that in Florida.”

Leaders are increasingly turning to face mask requirements as a way to tackle soaring cases, while trying to stave off more intrusive measures such as a new stay-at-home order. Face masks are now mandated in most states and recommended by the country’s top health authorities in public settings where social distancing is not feasible.

The CDC released new reports in the past week supporting face coverings’ effectiveness and suggesting that most of the country was following its recommendations on masks within days in April.

Mandating masks, however, remains a point of tension. Governors in some places with the most significant case surges have rejected statewide orders, calling them unnecessary and impractical.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) continued to spar openly about the issue: After Bottoms mandated masks in her city, Kemp responded last week with a lawsuit seeking to block the order, saying it was not enforceable. Part of the lawsuit requested a court order barring Bottoms from making public statements saying that she has “the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures” than those ordered by the governor.

“Far more have sacrificed too much more for me to be silent,” Bottoms, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, tweeted Sunday in response to the lawsuit.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) affirmed Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he would not make face coverings mandatory. “If I believed that was the best way to save lives in my state,” he said, “I would have done it a long time ago.”

Cat Zakrzewski and Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article overstated the number of hospitals that have run out of adult ICU beds by mistakenly including facilities without adult ICU bed capacity.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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