US COVID-19 cases top 2 million as first protest-linked infections noted

Editor's Note: This story was updated Jun 26, 2020, to more accurately depict Dr. Birx's comments. We apologize for the error.

Some members of the Washington, DC, National Guard—deployed over the past 2 weeks of protests and civil unrest in the wake of the George Floyd murder—have tested positive for COVID-19, a National Guard spokesperson confirmed with McClatchy news services yesterday, and US cases today topped 2 million.

Though it's not clear how many of the 1,300 troops active in DC in recent weeks are infected, the news dampens optimism that outdoor protests with masked participants would not necessarily spread the novel coronavirus. The National Guard is encouraging all troops deployed during protests to be tested for COVID-19 within 14 days.

The Nebraska National Guard has also confirmed two cases among troops activated in response to protests in Lincoln last week.

Top officials on the White House coronavirus task force voiced concerns to governors on Monday that protests would lead to a surge of new cases, according to a transcript of a phone call obtained by The Daily Beast.

Deborah Birx, MD, a member of the task force, said 70 COVID-19 testing sites were destroyed in cities across America, which will limit the impact of early detection. She also told governors that yelling could negate the effectiveness of masks and that it was absolutely critical law enforcement officers be tested for the virus.

Birx also voiced a concern about the uptick in cases in North Carolina, Utah, Arizona, and California and said there was active community spread in those states. She also said her team has seen spread in metro Hispanic neighborhoods. 

According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, officials have confirmed at least 2,000,500 US cases and 112,629 fatalities.

Case counts rise in 21 states

According to a New York Times report, the virus is increasing in 21 states. One of those states is North Carolina, which yesterday marked the second straight day in which a record daily number of COVID-19 hospitalizations was reported. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the state was averaging about 1,100 daily cases over the last 7 days as of Wednesday, and 780 people were hospitalized in the past 24 hours.

The rise in cases in North Carolina may prompt the Republican National Convention to move from Charlotte to Jacksonville, Florida, in August. President Donald Trump said he did not want a convention that featured social distancing, a promise North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper could not make the president.

The Washington Post reports that hospitalizations are on the rise in Texas, North and South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Arizona, and the spike of new, severe infections is linked to the reopening of states and Memorial Day weekend celebrations.

Despite the rise in cases, a new CNN poll shows that half of Americans are ready to return to their normal routines after 3 months of shutdowns, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders.

Forty-nine percent of all Americans, but 73% of Republicans, polled said they are ready to resume normal life. Only 23% of Democrats said the same.

Half of participants said they have left their home in the last 2 weeks for social calls, the biggest percentage reported since the pandemic began in March.

Issues with nursing home employees, farm workers

The pandemic has brought to the forefront major labor issues in two US industries: agriculture and food production and nursing homes. Now both are struggling to contain continued outbreaks while offering worker protection.

In North Carolina, Florida, and other southern states, Politico reports there have already been outbreaks in farm worker camps, and it's only early in the harvest season. Agricultural workers are deemed essential because their work enables the nation’s food supply, but with low pay and an immigrant workforce, many advocacy groups say farm workers aren’t being offered appropriate protections from the virus.

Nursing homes have been the site of the nation’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks and represent 40% of the nation's fatalities. A new Reuters report said chronic understaffing issues have exacerbated the problem of COVID-19 in these environments. At the end of May, 25% of US nursing homes said they were not fully staffed.

COVID-19 has prompted employees to quit in large numbers because they do not feel adequately protected and worry about getting sick, Reuters said.

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