Tuesday, December 1, 2020

US coronavirus deaths rise to highest level in more than six months

US coronavirus deaths rise to highest level in more than six months

US coronavirus deaths rose by the most in more than six months on Wednesday, propelling the country’s average fatality rate above that of the summer and to its highest level since May.

States attributed a further 1,869 deaths to coronavirus, according to Covid Tracking Project data, the largest single-day increase since May 7, when the outbreak was most acute in northeastern states such as New York and New Jersey.

The US has averaged 1,162 deaths a day over the past week, the highest level since late May and surpassing the summer apex of 1,142 when southern sunbelt states were battling the outbreak.

The country’s death toll now stands at 241,704, according to Covid Tracking Project, which the Financial Times uses for analysis. Johns Hopkins University, which uses an alternative methodology, said on Wednesday that the tally crossed 250,000.

The US death rate, while rising, has lagged behind new Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations, which have already set several records this month. Those worrying trends have prompted an increasing number of state and local officials to impose curbs on economic and social activity to head off a potential surge in infections that could follow the Thanksgiving holiday next week.

New York City will close its public schools from Thursday and shift to online instruction as cases climb in the metropolis, which was at the heart of the US pandemic in its early months.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, confirming speculation among anxious parents and school administrators.

The decision was taken under a policy agreed earlier this year that the nation’s largest public school system would close its doors if New York City’s seven-day average of positive Covid-19 tests breached 3 per cent.

Mr De Blasio said the city had now passed that threshold. Local politicians and parents have objected, saying that the positivity rate within the schools was far lower than that of the city at large. But Mr De Blasio has argued in recent days that it was essential for public trust that he follow the agreed policy.

New York City began to reopen classrooms in late September, an occasion that Mr de Blasio held up as a milestone in the city’s recovery. Resuming in-person instruction has been a priority not only to improve children’s education but also because many working parents rely on schools as a form of childcare.

But cases have been rising in the city since the start of autumn, as in almost all parts of the US. Public officials have ascribed the resurgence to various factors including increased testing capacity as well as behavioural changes such as “Covid fatigue”, with people chafing at social restrictions, and the onset of cooler weather.

The schools closure also comes a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, which US public health experts and elected officials have warned has the potential to accelerate the pandemic’s already rapid spread as families gather indoors to celebrate.

“You will see a tremendous spike after Thanksgiving. Tremendous spike,” New York state governor Andrew Cuomo warned on Wednesday.

His counterpart in Minnesota, Tim Walz, issued a similar warning to residents as he ordered a halt to in-person dining at restaurants and bars, the closure of gyms, cinemas and bowling alleys and limits on social gatherings for the next four weeks.

Mr Walz said Covid-19 was spreading at an “alarming pace” and “overwhelming businesses, schools and hospitals” in the Midwestern state.

The US reported 163,075 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, pushing the total past 11.3m. Hospitalisations hit a record 79,410, about 32 per cent higher than the longstanding peak from mid-April.

After easing some of the country’s most restrictive shutdown measures over the summer months, New York and many other states have been once again tightening curbs in recent days. Among the measures taken include capping indoor social gatherings, imposing curfews on bars and restaurants and expanding mask-wearing requirements.

Public schools in Detroit have switched to online-only instruction and the state of Michigan has ordered high schools and colleges to stop in-person instruction for three weeks. Philadelphia has also ordered high schools and colleges to halt in-person learning until January 1.

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