As U.S. caseload rises, governors and school districts scramble to prevent new infections.
As the United States reported its second-highest single-day total of new cases on Wednesday, governors and mayors were scrambling to issue new mask orders and limit the size of gatherings.
Several large school districts also said they would open the academic year with online classes, bucking pressure from President Trump and his administration to get students back into classrooms as quickly as possible.
The new restrictions reflect a painful reality that America’s outbreak, which has increased in 41 states over the past two weeks, may worsen in the coming weeks and months.
Wednesday’s tally of more than 67,300 new infections was about 1,000 cases shy of the record set late last week, according to a New York Times database, as the country’s total number of cases passed 3.5 million.
Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma became the first state leader in the nation known to be infected. He has been photographed in public while not wearing a mask, including at an indoor rally for Mr. Trump that was held in Tulsa last month.
New restrictions have been imposed by governors from both parties.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, issued an order on Wednesday that requires people to wear masks in public, on a day when her state reported 47 deaths, its single-day record. Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, a Democrat, said that he was also issuing a mask order.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican, specifically forbade local officials to require people to wear face coverings in public, but he also extended by two weeks an executive order limiting the size of public gatherings to 50.
Schools, in particular, are at the center of efforts to prevent outbreaks across the nation from worsening. On Wednesday, the school districts of Houston and San Francisco announced plans to begin the year with distance learning, with tentative plans to resume in-person classes later on.
And in Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, announced that she would delay the opening of schools until after Labor Day, saying that schools needed time to get masks, thermometers, hand sanitizer and other supplies.
“I can’t in good conscience open schools when Kansas has numerous hot spots where cases are at an all-time high & continuing to rapidly rise,” she wrote on Twitter. “We can’t risk the lives of our teachers, administrators, custodians, our students & their parents.”
A fresh reading on signs of economic recovery — or a possible retreat — will come in a pair of U.S. government reports on Thursday morning.
The Commerce Department will release the retail sales figures for June, and a modest rise is expected, thanks in part to federal stimulus checks and tax refunds. But the surge of coronavirus cases in states like California, Florida and Texas is raising the specter of another shutdown, which would be a major blow for store-based retailers.
Retail sales jumped 17.7 percent in May, the largest monthly surge on record. But that followed two months of record declines, and overall sales were still down from February.
Also coming Thursday is the Labor Department’s weekly tally of unemployment claims. Economists on Wall Street expect the report to show that 1.25 million new claims for state unemployment insurance were filed last week, continuing the decline since the peak in late March but still higher than levels ever seen before the pandemic. Any increase would signal that new restrictions are crimping the rebound.
“The labor market is not as bad as it was a couple of months ago, but we are still in a very deep hole,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.
In Washington State, which seemed to have beaten back the virus, the fight is on again.
In what seems like almost a lifetime ago, America’s coronavirus story started in January in Washington State, with the nation’s first confirmed case followed by an early outbreak that spread with alarming ferocity.
But swift lockdown measures were credited with holding down illnesses and deaths. By June, nail salons and bars had begun to reopen, even as the virus began to rage in Arizona, Florida and Texas. Washington still had relatively low case numbers, and some counties were even contemplating a return to movie theaters and museums.
Now, those plans are on hold, as the coronavirus is once again ravaging Washington.
Since the middle of June, the state has reported an average of 700 new cases per day — the highest levels since the start of the pandemic. At least 45,000 people in the state have been infected, and at least 1,400 have died.
“If these trends were to continue, we would have to prepare to go back to where we were in March,” Gov. Jay Inslee said recently.
Across the United States, many public schools have plans to reopen classrooms just a few days a week or not at all, while neighboring private schools have prepared to open full time.
Public schools, which serve roughly 90 percent of American children, have less money, larger class sizes and less flexibility to make changes to things like the curriculum, facilities or work force.
The biggest challenge for returning to classrooms is how to maintain physical distance, as required by guidelines from state governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most countries in which schools have opened — after reducing infection levels and imposing distancing measures — have not had new outbreaks.
Public school buildings in the United States are often old, with small classrooms, cramped halls and outdated ventilation systems. Independent schools (private schools not run by a for-profit company or religious organization) are more likely to have smaller class sizes to begin with, and money to hire additional teachers.
K-12 schools received $13.5 billion from the federal coronavirus relief package in March (though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has required that the funds are shared with private schools). School officials and education policy researchers say that the money is not nearly enough, and that because states are facing budget shortfalls related to lockdowns, schools will need a huge federal infusion of cash to reopen for all students.
An average district with 3,700 students and eight buildings would need to spend an additional $1.8 million on health and safety measures, one report estimated.
Women of color have long faced economic and racial inequality in Britain. Now that group is being hit disproportionately by the financial and psychological impact of the pandemic, according to a recent study by a group of British universities and women’s charities.
The survey found that nearly 43 percent of Black and ethnic minority women believed that they would be in more debt than before the pandemic, compared with 37 percent of white women and 34 percent of white men.
More than four in 10 of the women said they would struggle to make ends meet over the next three months.
A British government review of the disparities in the risk and outcomes from the virus found that death rates have been higher in Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups than in white groups.
The review found that Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and other Asians, as well as Caribbeans and other Black people, had from a 10 percent to a 50 percent higher risk of death than white Britons.
In a recent study, the think tank Runnymede Trust found that women of color were burdened with carrying out menial tasks that can be perilous in a pandemic.
“Covid-19 has brought the harsh realities of pre-existing racial inequalities into sharp relief, and nowhere is this more manifest than the disproportionate social and economic impact of Covid-19 on Black and ethnic minority women,” said Zubaida Haque, the interim director of Runnymede.
In other news from around the world:
India reported a single-day record of 32,695 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, as the country’s total caseload nears one million. India trails only the United States and Brazil in the total number of cases, and several Indian states are reintroducing social-distancing measures they lifted in June.
Imported virus infections continued to rise in South Korea, making up 47 of the 61 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to an official tally. Nearly a third of the new cases were from South Korean construction workers returning from Iraq, reported Yonhap, the national news agency. Separately, the U.S. military said that 12 troops and two dependents who had arrived in South Korea over the past week tested positive for the virus.
China’s economic rebound from the virus may be hard to sustain.
China’s economy expanded 3.2 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, officials said on Thursday. The recovery is a sign, with caveats, of the authoritarian government’s success in bringing the outbreak under control with widespread testing and travel restrictions.
By contrast, economies in the United States and Europe are still languishing as the pandemic forces cities to shut down and shoppers to stay home.
China’s growth from April through June is an abrupt turnaround from the first quarter, when its economy shrank 6.8 percent, the first contraction that the government has acknowledged in nearly 50 years.
The new figures partly reflect the restrictions that China imposed after its early missteps delayed the response to the outbreak and fed public anger, as well as the government’s continued reliance on infrastructure spending instead of domestic consumption.
But all the recent spending on highways and rail lines raises questions about whether China’s economic turnaround is sustainable and whether it can become the engine needed to drive the global economy out of a slump.
Factories in China are already cranking out furniture, consumer electronics and mass-market cars more quickly than consumers at home or abroad want to buy them.
“It looks like there is still a mismatch there — people are not consuming as much as previously,” said Sara Hsu, a visiting scholar in economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Sales of groceries and other essentials have stayed strong in China throughout the pandemic, but people’s willingness to spend money on restaurant meals and other nonessential goods and services has still not fully bounced back.
Tens of millions of Chinese, particularly young people, also remain out of work, and the slowdown caused by the pandemic has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
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Reporting was contributed by Rachel Abrams, Keith Bradsher, Michael Corkery, Manny Fernandez, Russell Goldman, Mike Ives, Sapna Maheshwari, Jeffrey C. Mays, Jesse McKinley, Sarah Mervosh, Claire Cain Miller, Jennifer Miller, Raphael Minder, Nelson D. Schwartz, Mitch Smith, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.