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Even Careful States Suffer With Covid Crossing Porous Borders

One thing that the latest Covid-19 surge has laid bare: No part of America is totally safe, no matter how restrictive the policies or how compliant the residents.

Take Illinois: Since May, it has required masks in public statewide, at times shuttered indoor dining, and banned large gatherings. Yet it recently hit a series of daily Covid-19 records and in the past week had more new cases than any state in the country. Colorado and Michigan have been only a bit less restrictive than Illinois, and they too face some of America’s most dire streaks of infections.

As the U.S. hit record cases and the most deaths since at least June, those three states on Wednesday accounted for about 15% of the infection tally and 11% of the fatalities, and they have just a 9% share of the U.S. population, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

That shows that porous borders and citizens’ inconsistent observance of state mandates mean policy alone often isn’t enough. Indeed, mobile-phone location data show Colorado and Michigan have been below-average social distancers. Illinois has been one of the best, but it’s surrounded by states that have been far more relaxed, according to the mobility data from SafeGraph analyzed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“There was a sense in the first wave that communities were coming together in an effort to flatten the curve,” said Benjamin Singer, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We are not seeing it now. Without a concerted effort — ideally led by national leadership — to engage the community, I worry this rise will continue.”

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President-elect Joe Biden has pledged a stricter approach. But until Jan. 20, America’s coronavirus response is directed by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly rejected calls for a national mask mandate and advocated opening the economy.

Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are rising in 49 states, compared with a week ago, according to Covid Tracking Project data. Deaths, a lagging indicator, are climbing in 35. And the velocity at which records are being shattered suggests any decline may yet be far off.

Podcast: A wide-ranging discussion with Bloomberg reporters on the pandemic.

Like other Americans, Illinois residents have occasionally been lax, the mobile phone data show. Officials also say there’s been growing complacency regarding compliance with masks and other practices, which aren’t captured by cell-phone statistics.

In Michigan, the state Supreme Court struck down an initial set of public-health measures from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, including her mask order. The health department found a workaround with new orders, but the whole episode sowed confusion.

Michigan, Colorado and others have all seen mobility drop recently, as has tended to happen when the public realizes the virus is circulating widely. But those places were more active than the national average in the first week of October when the latest phase of the pandemic was accelerating.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that residents should gird themselves for “potentially months of the fight ahead of us.”

Along with the higher positivity rates in neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin, Pritzker said exposure at restaurants, bars and private gatherings is a factor. He has added regional restrictions that one by one are starting to cover much of the state, such as banning indoor dining and reducing the permitted size of gatherings.

Pritzker is worried about having enough health-care staff if hospitalizations continue to grow. Additional statewide actions are possible, he said.

“I know it feels like we’ve been at this a long time,” Pritzker said. “But we can’t let our guard down.”

Nationally, the U.S. reported a record 152,255 new cases Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Cumulatively, there have been nearly 242,000 deaths.

According to Covid Tracking Project data:

  • The worst states by cases per capita in the past week are North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Nebraska and Illinois.
  • The following states reported a single-day record in cases Tuesday: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado.

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