Rising coronavirus cases in South and West cut into business optimism

By | June 20, 2020

A rising rate of coronavirus infections in certain states in the South and West have cut into business optimism.

This week, Florida and South Carolina hit daily record highs of new coronavirus cases. Arizona’s cases tally has tripled in roughly two weeks, and Texas hospitalizations have skyrocketed.

Some state leaders have argued that the increase in cases is a function of better access to testing. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Friday news conference, “As you test more, you find more.” However, the rate of daily positive tests in Florida has increased daily. On Tuesday, the rate of positive tests was 9.24% and increased to 12.55% on Thursday. Hospitalizations have also increased.

Arizona has also seen a rise in new daily cases and an increase in the rate of positive diagnostic tests. On Monday, the positivity rate was 15.8%. As of Friday, the rate is 17.4%, according to data published by a group of researchers at COVID Exit Strategy.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned Friday that the state will “face challenges controlling this.”

“Arizona is entering period of steep growth in its COVID epidemic,” Gottlieb tweeted. “With population-based mitigation seemingly off the table, for now, it’ll face challenges controlling this. That they were still debating masks this week — a simple, effective, albeit limited tool — should raise concerns.”

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has encouraged mask-wearing, and many cities, including Phoenix, have required it. Conservative Republican Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona on Friday described such mandates as “tremendous government overreach.”

Several other states, such as California, Texas, and South Carolina, have also recorded record-high daily case counts this week.

Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina’s chief state epidemiologist from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, said Thursday, “It is essential that each of us, every day, wear a mask in public and stay physically distanced from others.”

She added Thursday that a rising number of healthy people are catching COVID-19 who have been hospitalized. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 626 South Carolinians are currently being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals.

The growing case counts in over 20 states have already rattled the economy, which had been showing solid growth since businesses began reopening in May. After a solid start Friday, the S&P 500 fell 0.6%, and the Dow fell 0.8%.

Investors were also unsettled Friday when Apple announced it will temporarily close 11 stores again, just days after announcing that retail stores would reopen. The stores to be closed starting Saturday are located in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, all of which are experiencing the troubling increase in new cases.

Apple’s announcement had an immediate effect on the market, especially for industries that stood to gain the most from reopenings, such as travel and retail.

Gila River Casinos in Arizona shut down its three locations due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases and an employee death from COVID-19. Casino officials said they will “reassess its current safety standards.” The casino would not release information on how many employees had been infected, citing privacy concerns. A 68-year-old security guard at Lone Butte Casino died from COVID-19 on June 11.

Even amid the troubling signs of outbreaks in some states, the rate of new deaths across the United States has declined. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that several states will see an uptick in deaths in the next month. The agency updated its cumulative death forecast Thursday to predict that the death toll in several states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah — will climb in the next four weeks.

As New York City plans to move into the next phase of reopening, with roughly 300,000 people to go back to work, Mayor Bill de Blasio advised people to be cautious about going back out and resuming life as usual.

“This is a very personal decision that people need to make, and I’d say to anyone who feels cautious or uncomfortable, listen to that. And less is more, right?” de Blasio said at his Friday news briefing. “We are going through stages. We’re feeling our way.”

President Trump’s plans for a massive indoor rally in Tulsa Saturday are causing concerns amid the pandemic. “We could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today,” said Bruce Dart, the director of Tulsa’s health department.

The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of allowing the rally in Tulsa to proceed. Two residents had filed a suit requesting that everyone attending the rally wear a mask and stand at least 6 feet apart. The court said that the residents did not have a clear legal right to the relief they sought.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum had imposed a curfew from Thursday evening until 6 a.m. Saturday, and then another one from after the rally Saturday evening until 6 a.m. Sunday. He lifted the curfew Friday, a big plus for the Trump supporters camped outside in nearby parking lots waiting for the rally. Trump thanked Bynum for lifting the curfew.

Trump sent a warning to any protesters planning on disrupting the event. “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis,” he tweeted. “It will be a much different scene!”

California revised its April jobless rate Friday, announcing that the rate was really 16.4%, after reporting last month that the April rate was 15.5%, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“April’s revisions reflect unprecedented job losses never before seen in California’s history in a current data series that dates back to 1976,” the California Employment Development Department said.

The May jobless rate in California dropped slightly to 16.3%. While the state reopens and employers add more than 140,000 jobs, the rate of unemployment in California is still considerably higher than the peak in the Great Recession, which came to 12.3%. California lost 2.4 million jobs in April alone.

The coronavirus may have been in Italy as early as December. The BBC reported that Italy’s National Institute of Health tested wastewater samples taken from northern cities between October and February. Samples from Milan and Turin showed genetic traces of the virus on Dec. 18. The first confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy occurred on Jan. 31