US coronavirus epicentre shifts toward Midwestern states

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers ordered residents to wear face coverings in public. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States showed signs of shifting to the Midwest on Thursday (July 30) 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 US 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," Mr 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 per cent in July over June.

"I'm trying to just maintain a healthy level of anxiety," said Ms Rachel Norton, a travelling 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".

Mr Hannah worked as a cook at the United Centre, home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, before the NBA and NHL cancelled 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 US economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Mr Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate, on Thursday became the latest high-profile death attributed to Covid-19.

He 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. Mr Cain tweeted a photo of himself at the event without a mask.

The US outbreak initially centred on the north-eastern region around New York, which still has by far the highest total of fatalities of any state, at more than 32,000.

On Thursday, Mr Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Council health committee, said cases were rising again in north-eastern states, specifically New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

"Now, for the first time since spring, cases are rising again in all three," he wrote in a series of tweets. "NY is now an island within an island, with warning signs looming on all sides."

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