More US states and cities tighten restrictions to combat Covid surge

New Jersey, Michigan and Philadelphia are among the US cities and states imposing a new round of restrictions on businesses, schools and social gatherings in response to a record surge in coronavirus cases that is straining hospitals in multiple parts of the country.

The US tally of infections has accelerated at a record pace over the past few weeks — with the number of infections surpassing 11m, with 69,864 people in hospital and more than 237,000 fatalities. More than 1m cases have been added in the past week alone, with a rise of 139,000 reported on Sunday. 

As fears grow about the strain such a surge is posing on healthcare systems, state and local officials are once again tightening pandemic-related restrictions and urging residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the month.

Citing the rising number of cases, Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania, said that it will ban indoor dining as well as indoor gatherings and events involving people from different households, from November 20 through the new year. High schools and colleges will shift to online instruction, and indoor activities such as museums, casinos and gyms will be closed.

The state of New Jersey on Monday reduced the number of people allowed to gather indoors from 25 to 10, and outdoors from 500 to 150. The state, which neighbours New York and was one of the north-eastern states hardest hit in the pandemic’s early months, reported a record 4,538 cases on Sunday. 

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In some places, governors are attempting to impose statewide “freezes” or “pauses” on some activities and further reduce the maximum size of gatherings in an attempt to bring the disease’s spread under control.

After Oregon and New Mexico announced two-week pauses on Friday, Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, at the weekend ordered a three-week order banning indoor dining, restricting group gatherings and directing colleges and high schools to switch to all-remote learning for now. 

Starting on Tuesday, Washington state would enforce a number of restrictions for four weeks, including shutting down indoor service at bars, restaurants and gyms and limiting gatherings between people from different households, governor Jay Inslee said on Sunday.

Doug Burgum, North Dakota governor, on Friday night announced a statewide mask mandate. Along with neighbouring South Dakota, the Midwestern state is adding new cases each day at the highest population-adjusted rate in the country, far surpassing the worst levels experienced by New York and Florida earlier this year. 

The rises in cases has left hospitalisations hovering at or near record levels for weeks. Michelle Grisham, New Mexico governor, said hospitalisations in her state had “reached a frightening record high” of 506.

Alex Garza, head of the pandemic task force in St Louis, Missouri, warned that hospitals in the area were at imminent risk of reaching maximum capacity in two weeks if further mitigation measures were not enacted.

“If this continues, we’re absolutely going to need more staff, more help, more of everything to deal with the crush of patients that we see coming at us,” he told CNN on Monday. 

While a dose of positive news from Moderna about the efficacy of its vaccine candidate helped on Monday to boost optimism that the pandemic’s end could be nearer, the return of lockdowns and other restrictions to stop the disease’s spread in the meantime has fanned fears that the modest economic rebound over the past few months could come to an abrupt halt.

After passing an initial $3tn in government spending during the pandemic’s early months, the White House and Congress have since failed to reach a deal on further stimulus measures to help support shuttered businesses and laid-off workers.

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