The three major urban centers in the United States, where the coronavirus is spreading the fastest now, have one thing in common: they are top hot-weather tourist destinations.
Miami-Dade, Florida, Honolulu, Hawaii and San Juan, PR counties average at least 85 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, with test positivity rates above 20%, according to a database New York Times data. On the other hand, the nation as a whole has an average of 34 new cases reported per day per 100,000 population, with a positivity rate of 13%.
As of Wednesday, new confirmed cases in the United States were roughly flat at about 110,000 a day on average over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, after rising from less than 30,000 a few months ago. And these are just the reported cases; The widespread use of home testing means many positive test results never make it into official records, experts say, and many people with mild or no symptoms may never be tested.
“Much of the US is experiencing summer weather, but Covid-19 cases are on the rise,” said Sandra Albrecht, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. “So I wouldn’t expect to see this pattern look different for warm weather destinations.”
The only places in the country with recent numbers higher than these three urban centers are smaller communities in Puerto Rico or Hawaii and some isolated rural counties elsewhere.
Some regions of the US that were hit early by the latest increase, such as the Northeast, have shown signs of improvement lately. But Miami-Dade has gotten worse and worse since early April, with its daily average of new cases increasing more than tenfold, hospitalizations more than tripling and deaths soaring.
The CDC now considers it, along with much of Florida, a high-virus area where extra precautions are recommended, including wearing masks on public transportation and in enclosed public spaces.
Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, who directs the epidemiology department at Florida International University, pointed to a number of factors that could be driving the increase, including flocks of tourists on spring break, recent major events like the Miami Grand Prix race, and growing apathy. public about the pandemic.
“I think people aren’t taking the precautions they used to,” Trepka said. “People were masking more here in the municipality, and we are seeing less of that. People are being less careful because they are tired.”
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava abandoned all Miami-Dade pandemic safety mandates in February, around the time the CDC shifted its strategy on measures like masks and social distancing. At the time, the federal agency said, many of these restrictions were no longer necessary in most parts of the country, although municipalities must calculate their own risk as conditions change.
When the last outbreak occurred in April, Levine Cava urged residents to vaccinate themselves, wear masks, disinfect surfaces and maintain social distancing, but the county has not mandated any of these measures.
In a statement on Wednesday, Levine Cava once again urged residents to take precautions of their own: get vaccinated and boosted, get tested if they show symptoms, and stay home if they’re sick. “The best tools to fight the virus are the same ones we know and continue to use,” she wrote.
Mrs. Levine Cava noted that Miami-Dade was “the most vaccinated county in Florida: and these efforts have paid off with fewer hospitalizations than in previous outbreaks. But caution was still necessary.
“We haven’t beaten this virus, but we know how to control it,” she wrote.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi of Honolulu County took a similar approach.
“Coronavirus is not going away,” he wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “I encourage everyone to continue to demonstrate personal responsibility and wear your masks when you are around other people, get tested if you are not feeling well, and please make sure you get your backup.”
Blangiardi said his government is not considering reinstating mask mandates or other restrictions, but that it will “consider all possible solutions to any situation that warrants a response.”
The county, which includes the islands of Oahu, Molokai and Lanai, has experienced a significant increase similar to that of Miami-Dade since early April, but in the case of Honolulu there are signs it may have peaked. New virus cases have declined slightly over the past two weeks to 85 cases per day per 100,000 population, and the positivity rate stopped rising in mid-May.
Hawaii had some of the strictest travel restrictions in the country, requiring everyone arriving in the state to complete a 14-day quarantine. In March, it lifted its travel restrictions, allowing travelers from the mainland of the United States to enter without testing, and became the last state in the country to remove its indoor mask requirement.
A month later, the state’s tourism industry recorded its highest traffic numbers since the start of the pandemic, with more than 800,000 visitors arriving in the Hawaiian Islands, according to the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Mike McCarthy, director of the department, said in a statement that the tourism sector is “showing strong recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic”. He said he expected a gradual resumption of international travel by Japanese nationals – typically a large proportion of visitors to Hawaii – to bolster the recovery.
In Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi lifted nearly all pandemic restrictions in March, and new confirmed cases soon began to rise. But tourism on the island has rebounded: While cruise ship arrivals have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels, business travel to meetings and conventions was improving, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s official tourism website, said in a press release. end of April.
Kenira Thompson, chairman of the coalition of scientists and vice president of research at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico, said that older and immunocompromised people should consider continuing to wear masks in crowded places and that those who are eligible for booster shots must look for them.
The Doctor. Alain Labrique, director of the Johns Hopkins University Global Health Initiative, said the summer tourist season means large gatherings and greater people-to-people contacts, a recipe for the easy spread of infection even as fewer people are facing serious illness.
“Covid-19 has not disappeared as much as our patience with precautions,” he said.