Coronavirus cases are rising across Southern states — but for many Southern governors, lockdowns are off the table

Dave Creaney/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesCiscos in Austin, Texas.
  • Southern states have seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the past few weeks.
  • Some public-health experts have attributed the spike to states loosening their lockdown restrictions.
  • But multiple Southern governors told Business Insider they weren’t considering another round of lockdowns.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The number of new coronavirus cases in the US rose by 10% in the past week, driven by a surge in cases across Southern states.

New cases of the virus have risen precipitously in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

Some of these states have recently begun to ramp up testing, which may partly explain why their case counts have gone up. But Southern states have also reported upticks in their hospitalisation rates – a sign that the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the region.

Some public-health experts have attributed the South’s escalating outbreak to states relaxing their lockdown restrictions.

“The reason that we’re seeing a spike in cases here in Houston is because of the decisions that our governor has made to open up the economy fairly aggressively,” Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency physician in Houston, told Business Insider.

But multiple Southern governors told Business Insider they weren’t considering another round of lockdowns.

“There is this false narrative out there that there are two parallel lanes: We either protect people’s health or we protect people’s economic resources, as if those operate in two different universes,” Carrie Henning-Smith, the deputy director of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Centre, said. “But we can’t have a functioning economy if we don’t keep people safe and healthy as well.”

Research from the University of California at Berkeley published in Nature earlier this month estimated that the US’s coronavirus lockdowns and public-health orders prevented about 60 million infections from March 3 to April 6. Similar studies also found that lockdowns saved lives around the world.

Here’s how Southern states are responding their rising case counts.

Alabama is asking residents to ‘do their part’

Alabama’s weekly average of new coronavirus cases rose by 97% compared with last week, according to data from Pantheon Macroeconomics. The state’s daily hospitalizations also reached a record high on Saturday, topping 1,000. But Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, isn’t planning any further restrictions.

“As Governor Ivey has said on-the-record multiple times, you cannot have a life without livelihood,” a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement to Montgomery Adviser. “She urges every Alabamian to do their part as we continually work to combat this virus and regain the footing and momentum we had just a few months ago.”

Montgomery, Alabama, made headlines in May when Mayor Steven Reed said the city was down to just a “handful” of intensive-care-unit beds to treat COVID-19 patients. A doctor in the city told local NBC affiliate WSFA on Sunday that most Alabamians weren’t social distancing or wearing masks in public.

“The hospitals are fighting pretty hard. We are at capacity; it’s really tough,” Dr. David Thrasher said. “And it’s not because we are testing more; it’s not because there is an outbreak in a nursing home. It’s pretty much community spread throughout the community, and it’s going to be a problem.”

Arizona says lockdowns are off the table

On Sunday, Arizona’s infection rate reached 60.5 cases per 100,000 people – nearly five times higher than the infection rate in New York (12.5 cases per 100,000 people). Average coronavirus hospitalizations in Arizona also rose 49% from May 26 to June 9. But Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, doesn’t intend to reinstate a lockdown.

“We are not considering additional shutdowns,” Ducey’s office said in a statement to Business Insider on Monday. “Anyone who needs health care has access to it, and we continue to focus on expanding testing and contact tracing and educating the public on measures to contain the spread.”

Arkansas resisted lockdowns from the start

Arkansas never imposed a stay-a-home order, but it briefly shut down salons, gyms, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The state reported its highest single-day count of new coronavirus cases on Friday: more than 730. Arkansas has also seen a 74% increase in average coronavirus hospitalizations since Memorial Day weekend, ABC News reported.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the recent spike in cases was driven by three counties: Washington, Benton, and Lee.

“Our data shows that there is no correlation to the increase in cases in the three counties and the lifting of any restrictions,” Hutchinson said in a statement to Business Insider on Monday. “Our approach is expanded testing, tracing, and isolation of cases.”

If the US tests enough people, uses contact tracers to track down who was exposed to people with the disease, and gets them to isolate, many public-health experts have concluded that states wouldn’t have to totally lock down again. But Harvard researchers estimated that would mean testing 20 million Americans per day. The US is testing only about 500,000 people per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Florida remains focused on testing

Florida confirmed its highest daily total of new coronavirus cases on Tuesday: more than 2,700. As of Monday, the state’s number of coronavirus hospitalizations had almost doubled since May 4. More than 12,000 Florida residents have now been hospitalized because of the virus.

“Florida is actively searching for COVID-positive individuals to provide immediate treatment and contact tracing to help prevent the broader spread of the disease,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said in a statement to Business Insider. “This aggressive testing strategy is proving to be successful and will continue.”

In Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez said he wouldn’t impose another stay-at-home order for now – but that the city wouldn’t proceed with reopening bars and nightclubs as planned.

Mississippi says lockdowns are ‘exceptionally unlikely’

Mississippi was among the first states to lift its stay-at-home order on April 27. The state’s weekly average of new coronavirus cases rose 27% compared with last week, according to data from Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, told Business Insider that “anything is possible” when it comes to a second stay-at-home order, but a lockdown isn’t expected.

“It is exceptionally unlikely that we would choose to close our economy moving forward,” Reeves said. “We have to ensure that we protect the lives of Mississippians but also the livelihoods.”

North Carolina might consider another stay-at-home order

North Carolina reported its highest single-day count of new coronavirus cases on Friday: more than 1,700. Daily hospitalizations have also steadily risen there in the past month.

“If we need to go back to stay at home, we will,” Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, told NPR on Thursday. “I hope we don’t have to. I think there are things we can do before we have to get there, but yes, we are concerned.”

At a press briefing on Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said his priority was allowing children to return to school in August.

“We also want to continue taking steps to ease restrictions to reignite the economy, but we’re not going to do that until our trends and indicators tell us that it’s time to do that,” Cooper said. North Carolinians, he added, “can play a significant role in our ability to get these numbers headed in the right direction.”

South Carolina says closing businesses is ‘not the answer’

South Carolina’s weekly average of new coronavirus cases rose by 86% compared with last week, according to data from Pantheon Macroeconomics. On Friday, the state reported 803 new coronavirus cases – its highest single-day count so far. South Carolina was among the last states to issue a stay-at-home order and the first to reopen in early May.

“If closing all the businesses was the answer, then the places that have done that would be doing great, but they’re not,” Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said at a Wednesday press conference. “That’s not the answer.”

He added: “It is up to the people to determine what kind of precautions need to be followed.”

Texas says there’s no need to shut down the economy again

Texas recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Monday: more than 2,300. The state also reported more than 2,600 new positive tests on Tuesday – its highest single-day count to date.

In an interview with the local KYTX news station on Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he was “concerned but not alarmed” by the spike in positive cases. There’s “no real need to ratchet back the opening of businesses in the state,” he added.

But officials in Harris County, where both daily cases and hospitalizations have spiked in the past few weeks, said another round of lockdowns there was possible.

“I’m growing increasingly concerned that we may be approaching the precipice – the precipice of a disaster,” Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, told CBS News on Friday. “The numbers we’re seeing are very significant.”

On Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced the city would extend its lockdown order until August 15 to try and contain the spike in cases.

“Make no mistake, we will be seeing more hospitalizations and deaths,” Adler told local ABC affiliate KVUE. “We need the governor’s help enforcing masks and social distancing if we are to keep reopening the economy without overwhelming hospitals.”

Morgan McFall-Johnsen and Hilary Brueck contributed reporting.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.