Story at a glance
- The number of new coronavirus cases is increasing in several states in the Midwest.
- Data suggests the region may be the new epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
- Experts say the disease is likely to continue to spread from state to state.
A Minnesota biker who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has died of COVID-19, The Washington Post reported, one of several who tested positive after attending the crowded event in August where face masks were scarce.
The news comes as community spread drives an increase of new coronavirus cases across the Midwest. With former hotspots like New York, Florida and Arizona reopening as the states show signs of recovery, outbreaks in college towns are putting Midwestern states on the map as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
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“It was only a matter of time,” Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, told TIME. “Essentially, we’re playing Whac-A-Mole. One part of the country is a hotspot. We’re able to suppress that. But that wave then moves to a different part of the country.”
Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota reported 19,133 new cases in the week ending Aug. 30, according to a New York Times database, more than in any previous week of the pandemic. Like the rest of the country, the states’ response to the pandemic has varied, but all five states are below the testing target, the Times reported, and all but Iowa — which ordered bars in six counties to shut down at the end of August — have loosened restrictions and begun reopening.
"You just basically are going to see these rolling hotspots, I predict, throughout the country as people have more or less controls in place because the virus has established itself in population," Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN. "I think this will be the new normal."
While urban areas were hit hard in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the disease is spreading to more rural areas, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found residents are less likely to wear face masks as a preventative measure.
“We obviously don’t have the population density [of places like New York City], but in the smaller communities…you have a lot of opportunities to interact with people more frequently,” Victor Huber, a virologist at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, told TIME.
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