Tanzina: Hi everybody. I'm Tanzina Vega back with you on The Takeaway. While the world's eyes have been turned to the uprising against racism and police violence, some parts of the country are seeing new upticks in coronavirus cases and deaths. COVID-19 cases are increasing in nearly two dozen states and hospitalizations related to the virus are on the rise in at least nine. In Arizona for example, hospitals have been told to activate coronavirus emergency plans, and Texas has seen a 42% increase in coronavirus hospitalizations since Memorial Day. Here to help us understand the latest on the pandemic is Dan Diamond, a reporter at POLITICO who investigates health care politics and policy with a special focus on the Trump administration and the COVID-19 outbreak. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan: Tanzina, thanks so much for having me.
Tanzina: Is there a trend in where we are seeing coronavirus upticks here? Are there certain geographic regions or is this haphazard all over the country?
Dan: Well, there is a trend in that the upticks are where they were not before. If the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States were concentrated on the coasts and urban centers like New York City or Seattle, now we're seeing hotspots all around the country, and particularly in the middle of the country. States like Arkansas, Utah, Arizona. These are states that have not had as much rapid spread but now there are indications that factories, plants, or some states that may have opened up rather quickly, are facilitating spread and transmission of the virus. That makes it a lot harder to get a handle on exactly where the next hotspot is to try and tamp down before there is significant more spread.
Tanzina: Of course, the way coronavirus has been handled so far is pretty much been state by state. There are federal recommendations from the CDC but each state is handling its openings and reopenings as it sees fit. Dan, do we know what's causing the spikes? I know there's a lot of controversy around this. Is some of it because of the fallout from Memorial Day, perhaps where there were lots of gatherings? Is some of this related to the protest that we're seeing around the country?
Dan: It depends on which state you're looking at Tanzina and also there's a major fight over trying to decide who is to blame for these spikes. I'm seeing it emerge right now as a political reporter Republicans, and Democrats, and Congress, and beyond, and the White House certainly are trying to assign blame to the other party for why there is a recent spike. I think if you delve into the numbers, it's very specific based on local factors.
Utah is a clear case study of why the virus is going up in that state. Hundreds of workers at a meatpacking plant in Utah, the Meatpacking plants that have been ordered to stay open hundreds of workers at this one plant have tested positive and are now responsible for about a third of the state's total cases. Now, it's not just them, the former governor Jon Huntsman Jr. who's running for governor, again, also has tested positive recently. It's clear that that is the hotspot driving so much of what's happening in Utah.
Meanwhile, in a state like Texas, which moved to reopen very quickly, a few weeks ago, hospitalizations are up dramatically. It's not as clear if there's a single driver from having reopened so quickly, people being back to work, or other factors as well. You also asked about the protests. We are a little bit early on the curve before we start to see that manifest as an impact in hospitals. It usually takes some days before people even notice that they might have COVID-19 symptoms. Before it leads to hospitalization, there might be several weeks of seeking care. It just takes two to three weeks really for the impact of something like a mass protest to really manifest in hospital numbers.
Tanzina: I want to talk a little bit about what you mentioned, which is the political divide here in terms of who's pointing fingers at who Democrats versus Republicans because there are two emerging sources of blame that I think Americans are starting to point to. There are those who say, "Oh, this is because of the protests," and there are those who say this is because states open too quickly, and people are flinging off their masks and having barbecues with each other. Is that the root of the finger-pointing that the Democrats and the Republicans are doing to each other or are there other reasons for them to do that right now?
Dan: Well, I think those are the two major themes and it's disheartening as a health reporter to see a pandemic be politicized, especially this early in the pandemic. We are only a few months into what may be with us for a long time. The more that the country is divided and looking for reasons for blame, the harder it's going to be to unify everyone, and what could be another wave of needing to social distance.
I think both of those situations Tanzina, get to the core issue. The only way we know how to stop COVID-19 right now is by staying apart. The more that we are together, the more likely it is that the virus will spread. It spreads through respiratory droplets, when people are talking, coughing, when they're singing. It doesn't matter if you're singing in church, or if you're singing in a protest near each other and maybe not everyone is wearing a mask.
The closer you are to people, and particularly people who might not know that they have COVID-19 and are spreading it anyway, the more likely it's going to be that the virus will get a foothold. The protests are more recent than the states that reopened. If there is going to be a balance of evidence, it's probably the states are hooping back up rather than the more recent protests.
Both of those are issues that we're watching closely and it has muddled the way for scientists and researchers. When you have this many people either going back to work or taking to the streets, it's a lot harder to do that contract tracing that I mentioned with Utah and its factory because there could be so many different factors for why someone got sick.
Tanzina: Dan, we've got about a minute left, but I have to mention the federal guidance and the World Health Organization guidance around this which has been confusing so far. Anything stand out to you there? Should we continue to wear masks? Should we continue touching surfaces or not?
Dan: I think the more masks we wear the safer we probably will be. There's a lot of evidence that it prevents transmission to a significant percentage. The touching of surfaces the CDC has gone back and forth. More recently, the CDC has said that if you touch a surface that someone who's infected with COVID also touched, it's probably not going to be the biggest driver in transmission. The big takeaway to me, Tanzina is the more we can do to keep clean, protect ourselves, wash our hands, it doesn't matter if COVID going on or not, those are good practices all the time.
Tanzina: Dan Diamond is a healthcare reporter at POLITICO. Dan, thanks so much.
Dan: Thank you.
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