Big U.S. cities are seeing dramatic increases.
For a few months, coronavirus-weary Chicago residents got a reprieve from the strict regulations that shuttered the nation’s third-largest city during the spring.
After infections plummeted in early June, restaurants welcomed diners back inside. Movie theaters, fitness centers and bowling alleys reopened their doors. And the barriers came down on the bike pathway along the city’s cherished lakefront.
But with new coronavirus cases surging beyond the springtime peak, Chicago is now hunkering down. Statewide measures have closed some businesses and limited the capacity at others, while officials are urging residents to stay home. Again.
“We’ve been through a heck of a lot this year,” Lori Lightfoot, the city’s Democratic mayor, said during a recent news conference. “And it’s not over.”
Across much of America, the picture is similar. Major metropolitan areas were the face of the pandemic before being overtaken by spikes in less populated parts of the country in September. Since then, the nation’s worst outbreaks have been concentrated in rural parts of the Upper Midwest.
Yet dramatic increases have been reported in many major American cities in recent weeks, with some being hit harder than they were during their previous peaks. Testing has greatly ramped up since the start of the pandemic, but that alone does not explain the growing caseloads.
“The dreaded fall wave,
“We’ve been through a heck of a lot this year. And it’s not over.”
Lori Lightfoot, Chicago mayor, regarding the city’s
battle against the coronavirus pandemic
in many places, is upon us,” said Josh Michaud, an epidemiologist and associate director for global health policy at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. “And that includes in metropolitan areas.”
In Cook County, where Chicago is located, the seven-day average of new cases hit a record high of 4,654 on Nov. 17— far outpacing the peak of 1,690 during the spring surge. Deaths are lower than the numbers seen in the spring but have climbed in recent weeks.
With winter approaching, business owners who stayed afloat by turning to outdoor service have been investing in heating lamps, hoping to keep customers coming even in temperatures that can drop below freezing.
Michelle Foik, co-owner of Eris Brewery & Cider House, said she saw the shutdown of indoor dining as inevitable. The facility’s patio has been “our saving grace,” she said, but she worries about what will happen this winter. She’s torn between relief that the rise in cases was met with more restrictions and concerned over the impact on her business.
“Believe me, we need the money,” Foik said. “We’re a start-up. We are investing in our future, but if this become a longtime shutdown, it just hurts everything.”
The second peak in Chicago mirrors those in metropolitan areas across the country. In recent weeks, counties home to cities including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Las Vegas and Minneapolis have seen new cases surpass their past highs. Miami-Dade County has been trending up again, while Salt Lake County is experiencing its first major peak of the pandemic, with cases and hospitalizations rising since early October.
In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Valleywise Health “had a little breather” after the summer’s surge in Sun Belt states, said Michael White, the health system’s chief clinical officer. But the seven-day average of new cases, which hovered around 500 a day in late October, exceeded 2,000 on Monday.
“We’re hanging in there is how I would describe it,” White said. “Our biggest concern always is, as we continue to see this case count rise, that that certainly can lead to more folks needing hospitalization down the road, on top of a time where we usually see a higher rate of hospitalizations for non-COVIDrelated illnesses.”
Health officials attribute the virus’s resurgence in cities to several factors, including eased restrictions, increased gatherings and what’s being called “COVID fatigue.”
Eight months into the pandemic, “there is no longer that sense of urgency,” said Mouhanad Hammami, chief health strategist in Wayne County, home to Detroit. “When you live with something, it is no longer urgent, and you tend to get desensitized to it.”
Officials in many hard-hit cities also point to increasingly widespread transmission across the United States, which has been reporting record-setting numbers of infections. Over the past week, the country had well over 150,000 new cases each day. Ahead of Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of significant travel and extended family gettogethers, health experts feared the number would continue to climb.