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Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases, CDC Has More Advice For How To Stay Safe


Cases of COVID-19 are rising in about 20 states. In Arizona, for example, the average number of daily cases has almost tripled in the last two weeks. That state's biggest hospital system is warning there could be a shortage of ICU beds. NPR's Allison Aubrey has been covering all this very closely. Hi, Allison.


KING: So if you look at a map of the U.S., where do you see cases going up?

AUBREY: Well, first off, the national map shows that deaths from coronavirus continue to trend downward, which is good. But the reality is in some areas, there's a lot of concern the virus is circulating widely. For instance, in Houston, there's been a significant increase in hospitalizations, record high increases over the last several days in the state, in fact. I spoke to Lina Hidalgo. She's the Harris County judge. She oversees emergency response. This county includes Houston. She says if current trends continue, the county could be on the precipice of a disaster.

LINA HIDALGO: Right now, we're seeing that the spread is just too much for us to get a grip on. And we've reopened so fast that folks have gotten the idea life is back to normal. And I hope I'm wrong. I hope that we don't end up having a crisis. And so we're throwing all we have at it. But, certainly, you know, I would have done it differently.

AUBREY: She says she would have waited to relax restrictions until the virus seemed more under control in her county. But the governor's orders have blocked enforcement of local decisions or local orders, so she's urging people in her county to be vigilant and take precautions.

KING: Allison, is she right? Is the increase happening because people are going back to life as normal?

AUBREY: Well, this does seem to be a big part of it. It's a point that she makes. She says every time restrictions have been relaxed in the state, a few weeks later, there's a rise in cases. It happened after the first phase of reopening and again after Memorial Day.

HIDALGO: And since then, unfortunately, people have only gone out even more, you know, to in-person graduations, to bars, to clubs, to the protests as well. We're not seeing that impact right now yet, but, presumably, this trend will continue.

AUBREY: So take precautions, she says. Now, on Friday, CDC officials said some increases in states may be linked to more testing, to better detection. And the CDC also released more guidance to stay safe as states continue to lift restrictions, advising people to wear masks when they're out in public. There's actually increasing evidence that masks are effective. They also say to limit the time of your interactions with others, pointing out that the more closely you interact and the longer you interact, the higher the risk.

KING: It seems like masks might just become a part of daily life to mitigate risk. You know, Lina Hidalgo is in Houston. I know that Phoenix also seeing, you know, a big spike. Is this just happening in cities? Are rural places kind of OK?

AUBREY: Well, we've heard about all the cases in meat processing facilities. Many of these are in less populated areas. And data from the state of Kansas is kind of illuminating. It details cases linked to a whole bunch of venues throughout the state earlier this spring - for instance, more than 30 cases linked to three separate churches, cases stemming from a keg party, a coffee gathering of retirees, a restaurant. So as more places reopen from restaurants to gyms, it's important to be cautious because the virus is still circulating.

KING: So you mentioned that the CDC continues to offer advice, including some new advice. How do you stay safe in a crowded place like a keg party or a gym?

AUBREY: Or a gym, right. Well, you know, when you enter crowded indoor spaces, there's risk. I mean, being outside is safer. And there's risk especially if you can't stay socially distanced. So when it comes to gym, it's safer when the capacity is limited. I spoke to Adam Zeitsiff. He's the president and CEO of Gold's Gym. They have gyms around the country. He says they've completely revamped their protocols. They've increased cleaning and disinfecting. And they're asking members to sign a code of conduct before they come back into the gym. He walked me through it.

ADAM ZEITSIFF: No. 1 - please remember physical distancing is in effect. Please be respectful of other people. At No. 2, it says masks are not required but are recommended. And you will see our team members in masks and gloves. No. 3 - please understand that you will do your best, and we are expecting you to wipe down and spray equipment and clean up after yourself.

AUBREY: You know, it's a reminder for everyone to sort of get on the same page. Look out for each other. Take precautions. He says traffic to the gyms is way down as expected compared to last summer, but gyms are opening up.

KING: Given that it is summertime, we've hit the month of June, let me ask you about summer camps and day care What are you hearing there?

AUBREY: You know, a lot of camps have been canceled or restructured into either virtual camps or smaller groups, lots of workarounds, teenagers offering small backyard camps for neighborhood kids. I spoke to Judy Guzman-Cottrill. She's a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Oregon Health & Science University. She's been consulting with her state health department. You know, they know a lot of parents need to go back to work, need day care, so she says one recommendation to both camps and day care facilities is to limit the number of kids to 10 and also to limit the crossover between groups of kids.

JUDY GUZMAN-COTTRILL: For example, the same 10 kids in a day care room throughout the entire time. So if there is an exposure or an outbreak, then it will kind of enclose that group of 10 kids as opposed to children just moving around and mixing and commingling over a long period of time. Then that would put the day care center at risk of having to completely shut down.

KING: So it may be a long summer, and it's not easy for older kids, so many camps just not happening. So getting through the summer is probably going to take some creativity.

KING: Do you have kids?

AUBREY: I do. Yes.

KING: OK. So what is your plan?

AUBREY: Well, I've encouraged my kids to pick one thing, one goal, something they can try to master within reason. For instance, my daughter is using Duolingo to try to learn a language. I spoke to Ryan Sultan. He's a pediatric psychiatrist and a professor at Columbia University about this. And he says, you know, a goal can help give structure and purpose to these long summer days coming up, especially for kids who are anxious about the uncertainty of these times.

RYAN SULTAN: Life is a series of problems that we have to sort of navigate, and being sort of successful in that is realizing that life changes and it throws you curveballs. You need to figure out how to adapt to that. And I think that setting goals for yourself is a wonderful way to direct this energy. Rather than being uncomfortable with the uncertainty is put your energy into something that you can control.

KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey, putting your energy into something you can control sounds like good advice.

AUBREY: That's right.

KING: Thanks.

AUBREY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "WHEN THE BODY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.