‘Off the charts’: Virus hotspots grow in America’s heartland

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Picture of KCK clinic giving coronavirus drive-thru tests

DETROIT — The coronavirus continued its unrelenting spread across the United States with fatalities doubling in two days and authorities saying Saturday that an infant who tested positive had died.

It pummeled big cities like New York, Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago, and made its way, too, into rural America as hotspots erupted in smaller Midwestern towns and Rocky Mountain ski havens.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Saturday that an infant with COVID-19 died in Chicago and the cause of death is under investigation. Officials didn’t release other information, including whether the child had other health issues.

“If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

New York remained the worst-hit U.S. city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said defeating the virus will take “weeks and weeks and weeks.” The U.N. donated 250,000 face masks to the city, and Cuomo delayed the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23.

Cases also have been rising rapidly in Detroit, where poverty and poor health have been problems for years. The number of infections surged to 1,381, with 31 deaths, as of noon Saturday. The city’s homeless population is especially vulnerable, officials said.

“At this time, the trajectory of Detroit is unfortunately even more steep than that of New York,” said Dr. Teena Chopra, the medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the Detroit Medical Center.

“This is off the charts,” she said.

Chopra said many patients have ailments like asthma, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. She also acknowledged that in Detroit, one of the nation’s largest African American cities, there is a distrust among some in the community of the medical system and government due to systemic racism.

“In Detroit, we are seeing a lot of patients that are presenting to us with severe disease, rather than minor disease,” said Chopra, who worried about a “tsunami” of patients.

Trump approved a major disaster declaration for Michigan, providing money for the outbreak. He has done the same for New York, Louisiana and Illinois.

Cases in Chicago and suburban Cook County accounted for about three-fourths of Illinois’ 3,026 total as of Friday. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed popular lakeshore parks after people failed to practice social distancing, despite a statewide shelter-at-home order.

The governor of Kansas also issued a stay-at-home order to begin Monday, as the virus takes hold in more rural areas where doctors worry about the lack of ICU beds.

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A cluster of three counties in rural Indiana have surging rates of confirmed cases. One of them, Decatur, population 26,000, has 30 cases with one confirmed death and another suspected, said Sean Durbin, the county’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator. Several cases were traced to large gatherings earlier in the month, including a religious retreat and a high school basketball tournament.

The virus threatens to be devastating for close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone, Durbin said, adding that he was a friend of the person believed to have died from the virus as well as others currently in critical condition.

The county health department has already run out of personal protective equipment, Durbin said. The last supply from the federal stockpile arrived more than a week ago and contained just 77 N95 masks and two dozen face shields.

“I wish there was a stronger word for disappointed,” he said. “I’m calling on them to do better.”

Blaine County, Idaho, a scenic ski haven for wealthy tourists, now has around 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highest rate per capita outside the New York area. Two people have died.

Worldwide infections surpassed the 660,000 mark with more than 30,000 deaths as new cases also stacked up quickly in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in reported cases with more than 120,000. Confirmed deaths surpassed 2,000 on Saturday, twice the number just two days before, highlighting how quickly infections are escalating. Still, five countries have higher death tolls: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France. Italy alone now has more than 10,000 deaths, the most of any country.

The virus continues to strain health systems in Italy, Spain and France. Lockdowns of varying degrees have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities.

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