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Leaders in several states warn residents to be on guard as worrying COVID-19 trends emerge

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Posted at 12:43 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 14:43:02-04

Leaders in states across the country are sounding alarms about rising Covid-19 cases that experts say could foreshadow a coming surge.

In New York, several COVID-19 clusters have created 20 "hotspot" zip codes -- many in New York City -- that have an average test-positivity rate of about 6.5%, the governor said Thursday.

That is higher than New York's statewide seven-day average of 1.1%, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on local governments to issue fines to people who don't follow mask-wearing mandates.

"An infection today can become a cluster tomorrow," Cuomo said.

Leading health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have also warned that the US could see an especially challenging fall and winter this year, as social settings move indoors during cold weather. They say cities and counties should prepare by keeping safety measures -- such as wearing masks and social distancing -- in place.

"We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this," Fauci said in a Facebook and Twitter livestream.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday urged the state to halt a recent "escalation" of cases after reporting more than 1,000 new infections for the second day in a row.

"Today's daily report is too high," the governor said. "I need your help. It's up to us and we've got to get this done."

In Wisconsin, cases and hospitalizations are soaring. The state on Wednesday reported its highest-ever number of Covid-19 hospitalizations -- more than double the numbers seen in late August, when they were in the high 200s, COVID Tracking Project data show.

Wisconsin's seven-day average of new daily official cases hit a high Wednesday -- 2,334, well above averages in the 600s and 700s seen in late August.

The White House coronavirus task force recently warned Wisconsin of a "rapid worsening" of the pandemic there, and urged the state to increase social distancing as much as possible. That warning came ahead of President Donald Trump's planned rallies this weekend in the hot-spot areas of La Crosse and Green Bay.

And in Illinois, the governor is tightening restrictions in one part of the state after an increase in positivity rates.

As of early Thursday, at least 27 states were reporting higher seven-day averages of new daily cases than a week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Nationwide, more than 7.2 million people have been infected and more than 207,000 have died.

New York City teachers' union says some schools should close if cases don't drop

New York City officials are carefully watching 10 city zip codes where coronavirus cases are rising, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday as more schools reopened for in-person learning.

The city reopened middle and high schools on Thursday, after doing so for elementary schools on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the city started allowing indoor dining at restaurants at 25% capacity.

Ten city zip codes have test-positivity rates above 3%, though the entire city's rate is 1.59%, de Blasio said. If the entire city's seven-day average goes over 3%, the city will close all schools, de Blasio has said.

The president of a New York City teachers' union said Thursday he would demand school closures if cases in those zip codes don't decline.

"If those numbers don't come down, this is where it's going to end up in a bit of a fight," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said. "And if that means we have to go to court or do something else, we will."

De Blasio said Thursday he would watch to see whether school shutdowns are necessary in hotspot neighborhoods, but added that schools have so far seen "relatively few" COVID-19 cases.

One building -- a special education school with 262 students in Queens -- has been closed for two weeks because of cases there. A few other schools have been closed for a day, he said.

Otherwise, "with a school system that's going to have up to 500,000 kids in person this week, and well over 100,000 teachers and staff in buildings, we're seeing relatively few cases each day," the mayor said.

The city is trying to enforce rules such as mask mandates, and those who don't follow them are subject to fines or, in the case of businesses, closure, de Blasio said.

Mississippi lifts mask mandate

Despite officials continuing to advocate for the use of masks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Wednesday he will not extend the state's mask mandate, saying the state's numbers for average new COVID-19 cases have declined.

"It has been a great few weeks for COVID-19 numbers," the governor said. "We've cut our average number of new cases in half, we've cut hospitalizations by two thirds of what they once were."

Mississippi has reported more than 98,000 infections since the start of the pandemic. According to data from Johns Hopkins, Mississippi is one of 14 states that have been tracking relatively steady in the number of new cases compared to the previous week.

More communities across the country have further loosened restrictions in recent days, including in Florida, where the governor cleared the way for bars and restaurants to fully reopen.

Wyoming, which last week set a single-day record for new COVID-19 cases, also loosened rules around restaurants. Nevada loosened restrictions on public gatherings, while in California, several counties were given the green light to move into less restrictive tiers of the state's reopening plan.

Despite doing away with the mask mandate in Mississippi, the governor urged residents to continue wearing face coverings, saying it's the "smart, prudent and wise thing to do."

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