'Please stay home:' COVID-19 tightens grip on U.S. Midwest

Lisa Shumaker and Maria Caspani
·4-min read
Aerial view of drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Miller Park

'Please stay home:' COVID-19 tightens grip on U.S. Midwest

Aerial view of drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Miller Park

By Lisa Shumaker and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Six U.S. states reported record day-over-day increases in COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, according to a Reuters analysis, as infections rose across the Midwest and elsewhere, prompting new clampdowns on residents, schools and businesses.

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Hawaii and Wisconsin, Reuters found. Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Colorado and Ohio reported record daily increases in new infections, the tally showed.

The number of patients in U.S. hospitals suffering from the virus hit 40,000 for the first time since August on Wednesday, according to the analysis.

"Folks, please stay home," Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said in a statement on Wednesday. "Help us protect our communities from this highly-contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals."

Evers said a week-old field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs had admitted its first patient.

Wisconsin is a pivotal battleground state in the Nov. 3 election between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work. Opinion polls show Trump's handling of the pandemic has hurt his re-election prospects.

In Illinois, 66 people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the state's highest single-day increase since mid-June.

In Kansas, where the death toll rose by 80 on Wednesday, Governor Laura Kelly said the pandemic was putting a strain on hospitals and that all 62 residents of a nursing home in Norton County had contracted the virus. Ten had died.

"The tragic deaths in Norton are a stark reminder that COVID-19 poses a real threat to all Kansans," Kelly told an afternoon news conference.

Nationally, cases have been trending higher for five weeks, rising to 60,000 on average over the past seven days from a recent low of 35,000 a day in mid-September.

The rise in new infections partly reflects stepped-up testing in many states, which has provided a more accurate picture of the spread of the virus.

The United States has averaged 734 daily coronavirus deaths over the past seven days, still well below the 2,333 average at the height of the pandemic in April.

HOSPITALIZATIONS CLIMB

The latest outbreak on a per-capita-basis is most severe in the Midwest, where daily case counts hit a record on Monday with over 27,000 new infections reported.

Midwest hospitalizations climbed to 10,830 on Tuesday, hitting a record high for a fifth day in a row and raising fears that medical centers could become overwhelmed like in the early months of the pandemic in the U.S. Northeast.

Outside the Midwest, health officials sought to curtail smaller outbreaks.

Boston officials announced that public school students would shift to remote learning because of a rising infection rate in the city that was hit hard during the spring.

The Boston school system, which serves more than 55,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade, allowed some pupils with the highest needs back to the classroom on Oct. 1 after starting remote learning on Sept. 21.

Massachusetts has averaged more than 700 new cases a day over the past seven days, its highest seven-day average since late May, according to a Reuters analysis.

But only 1% of tests were coming back positive, one of the lowest levels in the country. The disparity suggests that the state is catching new outbreaks quickly, keeping the number of infections under control.

School districts across the United States have been grappling with reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic.

In New York City, home to the nation's largest public school system, officials ordered some schools to revert to remote learning earlier this month after infections spiked in a few areas.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo eased restrictions imposed in some cluster zones in the city's Queens borough, saying the outbreak there had eased. The move allowed schools in those areas to reopen but with rigorous weekly testing.

New York was an early epicenter of the pandemic and has seen more deaths from COVID-19 than any other U.S. state, more than 33,000 as of Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, schools remain closed for in-person education for most students.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York, Brendan O'Brien in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)