(Reuters) – For a second week in a row, half a dozen U.S. states face a surge in new coronavirus cases and rising hospitalizations, including an outbreak linked to a church in rural Oregon.
Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas all reported record increases in new cases on Tuesday after recording all-time highs last week. Nevada also reported its highest single-day tally of new cases on Tuesday, up from a previous high on May 23.
At the Tucson Medical Center on Monday, just a single intensive care unit (ICU) bed designated for COVID-19 patients was available, with the other 19 beds filled, a hospital representative said, adding they were working to increase capacity.
“ICU to be expanded, hopefully, in coming days,” Dr. Steven Oscherwitz, an infectious disease expert at the hospital, said in a tweet on Monday night. “Not sure where people needing ICU care will be able to go, since most AZ (Arizona) hospitals are pretty full now.”
North Carolina reported record coronavirus hospitalizations on Tuesday with about 74% of its hospital and ICU beds filled, according to a state website.
Health officials in many states attribute the spike to businesses reopening and Memorial Day gatherings in late May. Many states are also bracing for a possible increase in cases from tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets to end racial injustice and police brutality for the past three weeks.
In Oregon, health officials are trying to contain an outbreak tied to the Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church in Union County.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that a video on the church’s Facebook page on May 24 showed hundreds of people standing close together singing. Large gatherings were not permitting under the state’s reopening plan at that time. The video has since been deleted, it said.
Reuters was not immediately able to reach the church for comment.
Across the United States, 17 states saw new cases rise last week, led by Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma, according to a Reuters analysis.
In Oklahoma, where President Donald Trump plans to hold an indoor campaign rally on Saturday, new cases rose 68% to 1,081 in the second week of June, while the rate of people testing positive for the virus increased to 4% from 2% the previous week.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said officials were considering other, possibly outdoor, venues for the Tulsa event. The virus spreads far more efficiently in enclosed spaces.
Pence, who Trump put in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, on Tuesday pushed back against talk of a second wave of infections. He said more testing was being done and the country was developing treatments and vaccines.
“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown,” Pence wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. here “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”
More than 2.1 million people have been infected with the coronavirus in the United States and over 116,000 have died from COVID-19, by far the most in the world.
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Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot