As virus pummels US, Europe sees its own spike
Major European countries are seeing new spikes in coronavirus cases, illustrating how easily the virus can snap back after periods of relative calm.
The U.S. is averaging about 40,000 new cases and 850 new deaths every day, among the worst numbers in the world. After declining for weeks, cases across the United States are now starting to tick back up.
But now some countries that were successful in suppressing the early wave of the virus are seeing resurgences, showing that easing up on restrictions too forcefully can lead to new spikes.
Israel, which was earlier seen as a success story, is now imposing a new three-week lockdown as it tries to halt a surge in cases.
France and Spain, which had flattened their initial outbreaks with strict lockdowns early this year, are experiencing new spikes after reopening, and both countries now have more new cases per day than the U.S., when adjusted for population, according to data compiled by Our World in Data.
The U.S. still has the most cases per capita of any major developed country, and is near the top in deaths per person, though slightly behind the United Kingdom and Spain, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Some European countries are still doing quite well, just as some U.S. states, particularly in the northeast, are now having success.
“It’s a patchwork here just as it’s a patchwork in Europe,” said Gavin Yamey, associate director for policy at the Duke Global Health Institute.
Experts said places that are doing better tend to be careful about reopening. They generally are allowing businesses to reopen slowly, and have ramped-up testing and contact tracing to identify new outbreaks.
“That more cautious reopening has served the Northeast very well,” Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, said of the U.S. region. “You look at data from Madrid and compare it to New York and it’s kind of like night and day.”
The U.S. states and European countries faring poorly tend to have a few things in common.
They reopened restaurants and other businesses too quickly and people did not maintain vigilance in going to places like bars that spread the virus, where there can be crowds of unmasked people indoors.
“The Spaniards love their tapas bars and their social venues,” Vermund said, saying similar problems of lax reopenings occurred in southern and Sun Belt states in the U.S., leading to spikes in case numbers.
“The good news is that we’ve been successful in reopening many countries in Europe and many states in the U.S., and some of them have reopened without a surge,” he added.
To prevent new spikes, experts like the National Institutes of Health’s Anthony Fauci have called for steps more targeted than a full-scale lockdown, like closing bars and gyms, along with limiting indoor dining at restaurants.
“Bars are a really important place of spreading of infection, there’s no doubt about that,” Fauci said on MSNBC on Thursday night.
The White House coronavirus task force has called on hard-hit states to close bars and gyms, and to limit capacity in indoor dining, but some governors have not heeded that advice.
There are also possible warning signs ahead.
Florida reopened bars this month, after closing them in late June as a way to halt a spike in cases in the state.
In a less drastic step, New York City is allowing indoor dining at the end of the month, at a 25 percent capacity limit.
More broadly, as the weather gets colder and more activity moves indoors, there are fears of a new surge.
Fauci said early this month that the U.S. has a troublingly high level of virus circulating as the fall months approach.
“We’re right around 40,000 new cases, that’s an unacceptably high baseline,” Fauci said on MSNBC on Sept. 2. “We’ve got to get it down, I’d like to see it 10,000 or less, hopefully less.”
But new cases have not declined since then, and are in fact starting to tick back up in the last few days.
While there are new trouble spots across the globe, some countries continue to excel, showing that resurgences are not inevitable if the virus is managed well.
In Europe, Germany has received high marks for its response and has seen only a slight uptick in cases recently. Canada last week reported its first day with zero coronavirus deaths in months.
And South Korea, seen as one of the best countries at responding in the world, was able to head off a new major outbreak centered on a nightclub district in Seoul in May through flooding the area with testing and contact tracing.
The United States had 119 new cases per million people on Friday, according to Our World in Data, while South Korea had less than three.
“The reality is though that all of these experiences just show the critical importance of basic health measures, universal masking, distancing, mass testing, robust contact tracing and the ability to isolate and quarantine,” said Yamey, the Duke expert.
But the resurgence in some places across the world, he added, drives home that “this is a difficult virus to control.”