October 22, 2020

Coronavirus cases ease in Sun Belt states as nationwide deaths climb

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) arrive with a patient while a funeral car begins to depart at North Shore Medical Center where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients are treated, in Miami, Florida, July 14, 2020.

Maria Alejandra Cardona | Reuters

Coronavirus outbreaks that have torn through Sun Belt states like California, Florida, Texas and Arizona for weeks have started to decline, although deaths across the nation are still on the rise, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Across the nation, daily new Covid-19 cases have declined in recent days, driving the seven-day average of new cases down more than 5% compared with a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins data. Health officials have struggled for weeks to halt outbreaks in the American South and West, shuttering businesses and pleading with residents to follow social distancing guidelines and to wear face coverings.  

As of Sunday, cases in Texas have fallen more than 8% over the previous week, hitting roughly 7,723 daily new cases based on a seven-day moving average, according to Johns Hopkins data. CNBC uses a seven-day average to calculate Covid-19 trends because it smooths out inconsistencies and gaps in state data. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has warned that while the state has made some strides, it has not yet “conquered” the coronavirus and it’s “going to take a little while” to eliminate. 

Meanwhile, Florida reported a more than 14% drop in its seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases Sunday, and Arizona reported a more than 10% drop, according to Johns Hopkins data. California’s cases are also slowly starting to trend down, reporting a more than 8% drop in its seven-day average. 

California, Texas and Florida now lead New York, once considered the nation’s epicenter earlier this year, in total number of infections, according to Johns Hopkins data. 

“No one’s declaring victory,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at HHS, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “Very consistent with what we’ve said over the last few weeks, we continue to see signs of progress across the Sun Belt and diffusely throughout the country.”

Although cases appear to be descending, Covid-19 deaths have been on the rise since early July. Coronavirus deaths typically lag behind reported cases because it can take someone infected with the coronavirus weeks to fall seriously ill and potentially die, epidemiologists say.

The U.S. reported an additional 1,047 deaths based on a seven-day average on Sunday, a near 15% increase compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data. California hit a record-high seven-day average on Sunday, growing nearly 30% compared with a week ago. 

Top White House officials have started shifting their attention toward other states, mostly in the Midwest, in recent days. Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned about the rising positivity rate, or the percentage of tests run that are positive, in states like Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, said on Sunday that the U.S. is “in a new phase” of battling against the coronavirus, which is “extraordinarily widespread” in both urban and rural communities.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread … it’s more widespread and it’s both rural and urban,” Birx said during an interview on CNN. 

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report. 

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