Test results lag as cities and states face crucial decisions on whether to reimpose restrictions

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Right now, tests are being done in much larger numbers — a positive development — but this increase is also slowing down results.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday that health officials want to reduce wait times for results.

“Even in the large commercial labs, and we follow this every single day, there may be an outlier that’s 10 days or 12 days, we can’t deny that that happens,” Giroir said. He wants test results back as fast as possible, but a three-day turnaround is “very reasonable.”

Commercial labs have said they are backed up, with results often taking as long as seven days to turn around.

“I’m never going to say that I’m happy with any turnaround time, Giroir added.

Giroir says 700,000 to 800,000 people are being tested each day.

That means it’ll be a week before officials know how many of them are infected. Test results are also important information for contract tracers who are trying to find people who might be infected.

In the meantime, state and local leaders are making decisions on whether to stop reopenings or reimpose restrictions.

And with a lack of federal mandates, they’re taking matters into their own hands, such as requiring people to wear masks in public.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced on Thursday that face masks are required in public places when social distancing is impossible. The order takes effect at midnight on Thursday.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a statewide order effective Monday. Masks will be required when people are in the presence of non-household members and aren’t able to socially distance.

Alabama and Montana issued statewide facial covering orders on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum signed a city mask ordinance while wearing a mask himself, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Large retail chains have also mandated masks in stores. On Thursday, CVS, Publix and Target announced new rules for stores in states and cities where there are no government-mandated ordinances.

As morgues fill up, two counties bring in refrigerated trucks

With skyrocketing coronavirus hospitalizations in several states, hard-hit counties in Arizona and Texas are preparing for the worst by bringing in refrigerated trucks as morgues fill up.
The US coronavirus outbreak passed 3.5 million total infections on Thursday afternoon with more than 138,000 reported deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Thirty-nine states reported an increase in the number of new cases from the week before. California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have become the states to watch as surging coronavirus cases lead to a shortage of hospital beds.

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In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which has the most Covid-19 cases in the state, the medical examiner’s office has ordered four portable coolers with additional ones expected in the coming days, said Fields Moseley, the county spokesman. The medical examiner’s office morgue had a total of 156 deceased people — with a surge capacity of just over 200, Moseley said Wednesday.

It is unclear how many of the deaths are related to the coronavirus — the county has said fatalities go up in the summer due to the heat.

In Texas, the city of San Antonio and Bexar County have secured several refrigerated trailers to store bodies until they can be released to funeral homes, Mario Martinez, Metro Health Assistant Director, said in a video interview released by the city.

He said that they currently have two in operation and another three will be operational by the end of the week.

Cameron and Hidalgo counties in Texas are sharing a large refrigerated trailer to store bodies of coronavirus patients because of a lack of space at the morgues.

“I’m pleading with everybody in our neck of the woods, help us do your part, people’s lives are at stake — not just the people getting sick, but doctors, nurses working to the bone, EMS personnel, transporting people,” Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. told CNN affiliate KVEO.

The Dallas County morgue had to use an external refrigerated truck this week due to the increased caseload, the Medical Examiner’s Office told CNN.

“We have had to go to the external refrigerated truck once this week due to increased caseload, but today we are back with all cases inside,” Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, the Dallas County Medical Examiner, said in a statement. “I anticipate that we will at some point have to use the truck again based on continuing increased volume.”

Georgia governor, Atlanta mayor clash

Gov. Brian Kemp extended Georgia’s emergency coronavirus restrictions and said while people are “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings — they’re not required. The order, which expires July 31, limits public gatherings to 50 people and mandates social distancing.

A coronavirus test could cost as little as $20 or as much as $850

His order also prevents local governments from implementing stricter rules than the state’s — including requiring face masks.

But on Thursday, Michael Smith, press secretary for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, told CNN the “Mayor’s Order remains in effect, as science and data will continue to drive the City’s decisions. Masks save lives.”

The state reported 417 additional hospitalizations, nearly double Tuesday’s total, and is turning the Georgia World Congress Center, a large convention venue in downtown Atlanta, into a potential overflow hospital.

California, the country’s most populous state, reported 8,544 new cases of the coronavirus and 118 additional deaths on Thursday, according to updated data from the California Department of Public Health.

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The new cases represent a 2.5% increase and the deaths reflect a 1.6% increase from Wednesday’s data. And in Los Angeles County, the public health director warned another stay-at-home order is likely.

“We can’t take anything off the table — there’s absolutely no certainty of what exactly is going to happen next,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer said.

Florida reported more than 315,000 positive cases statewide on Thursday, an increase of 13,965 cases from the previous day, according to the Florida Department of Health. There were a record 156 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, a jump from the previous high of 132 on Tuesday.

More than 50 hospitals have reached ICU capacity and show zero beds available, according to data released by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Eight of those hospitals are in Miami-Dade County. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said hospitals in the city have hit 95% capacity.
Chairs sit stacked inside a closed bar in Austin, Texas.

Epidemiologist says California needs more contact tracers

To combat the rise in coronavirus cases in California, there needs to be enough contact tracing staff in regions where Covid-19 infections are increasing, the principal investigator for the state’s contact tracing program told CNN, but not all regions require an equal number of tracers.

“They’re not, in their current level, they’re not in all places,” said University of California, San Francisco epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, who also leads the university’s contact tracing training program. “If we spread it evenly there still probably wouldn’t be enough in the highest incidence areas.”

Health officials, he said, cannot forecast how much contact tracing is needed in a region until public health departments are alerted to positive results, but the teams are scalable. “We can call in extra people if there’s a surge,” Rutherford said.

Dr. David de la Zerda, center, listens to the governor of Florida during a news conference on coronavirus cases in the state.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Jon Passantino, Sarah Moon, Jennifer Henderson and Maggie Fox contributed to this report.

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