States tightening anti-virus restrictions amid case surge

IOWA CITY, IOWA (AP) – The deadly rise in COVID-19 cases across the United States (US) is forcing state and local officials to adjust their blueprints for fighting the virus, with Republican governors adopting mask mandates – skeptically, in at least one case – and schools scrapping plans to reopen classrooms.

The steps face blowback from those who question the science behind mask wearing and social distancing and fear the new restrictions will kill off more jobs and trample on their civil liberties.

In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds pushed back against a mask mandate for months but imposed a limited one on Tuesday, becoming the latest GOP holdout to change course on face coverings. At the same time, she claimed “there’s science on both sides” about whether masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

With Thanksgiving coming up next week, public health officials are bracing for a holiday-fuelled surge. Doctors are urging families to stick to small gatherings.

Governors in Ohio, Maryland and Illinois imposed restrictions on business hours and crowd sizes Tuesday, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and Colorado proposed economic relief packages. Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, ordered similar business restrictions.

The key measures of the country’s effectiveness in managing the pandemic are all heading in the wrong direction. Hospitalisations, deaths and cases are all skyrocketing in the US.

In its weekly internal report, the White House coronavirus task force warned of an “aggressive, unrelenting” spread of the coronavirus across the country “without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration”, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the task force concluded that existing efforts to slow the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve” and that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings could “amplify transmission considerably”.

More than 73,000 people – an all-time high – were hospitalised with the virus in the US as of Monday, an increase of over 3,000 from just a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project.