As it became certain that President Trump’s 2020 kickoff event in Tulsa, Okla., would fall well short of its expected sellout crowd, teenagers around America and K-pop fans took a victory lap. Times reporters pointed to a weeklong viral campaign by TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music (K-pop) groups to sabotage the rally. The online communities claimed to have registered for hundreds of thousands of tickets for the event to flood the Trump campaign with fake data and inflate crowd-size expectations. One part prank, one part protest.
The Trump rally troll helped cement a narrative among a number of online liberals. Just as millennials were clumsily dubbed the avocado-toast-loving, industry-killing generation, the Gen Z stereotype is an equally reductive portrait: a sardonic, nihilist, climate-change-conquering group of social media vigilantes, righteously trolling for social justice (and roasting millennials in the process). Gen Z may just save us all, the theory goes — or at least save us from another four years of Donald Trump.
It’s a comforting thought in these unstable times. But reality is far more complicated. The kids aren’t all right (though many are). The kids are fed up. More specifically, Generation Z is disillusioned by a country and its myriad institutions whose moral arc seems to bend toward corruption and stagnation. They’re also, like any generation, not monolithic. And the way that their justified disillusion will play politically, culturally and socially is unknown.
“I’m afraid we’re always reading too much into every action of this generation,” Michelle Ciccone, a K-12 curriculum specialist in Massachusetts, told me recently. Ms. Ciccone’s job, designing digital teaching materials for a generation that has developed its own deep, nuanced and disparate digital cultures, has disabused her of painting the generation with a broad brush.
On the subject of the Trump rally ticket protest, she was wary of those offering definitive rationales. “I just don’t know how you can be so sure of the motivations of those involved,” she said. “There’s a lot of different reasons people might do that. Boredom, even just simple chaos, is a motivation.”
Indeed, Gen Z activism so far skews both idealist and dystopian. A common thread between that idealism and dystopianism is most likely a deep feeling of alienation, which Joe Bernstein at BuzzFeed News argued last year was one of the definitive effects of technology throughout the 2010s: “Feelings of powerlessness, estrangement, loneliness, and anger created or exacerbated by the information age are so general it can be easy to think they are just a state of nature, like an ache that persists until you forget it’s there.”
He cites the Harris Poll’s long-running alienation index, which asks respondents to agree or disagree with five blunt statements:
What you think doesn’t count very much anymore.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Most people with power try to take advantage of people like yourself.
The people running the country don’t really care what happens to you.
You’re left out of things going on around you.
Rather than some abstract litmus test, these statements are an apt description of much of American life since Gen Z was born. It has been witness to a financial crisis that deferred or destroyed dreams and wealth with little consequence to those who caused it; the whiplash of the Obama and Trump presidencies; political gridlock; an information ecosystem built atop viral advertising platforms that have democratized information, allowing it to be weaponized to the point of blurring reality; seemingly endless digitally documented police violence; and forever wars. They were born into a time of stark and widening inequality, a time when voter suppression is both called out but rarely acted upon.
Alienation is not a feature of Gen Z experience — it is the overarching context. And it is likely to have profound impacts on their politics and all of our lives. Perhaps the largest fissure in the generation’s formative years — the coronavirus pandemic — is still evolving. What, for example, are the results of a year or two of young adulthood lost to social distancing due to a pandemic? Or of graduating into a potential economic depression behind a generation that graduated into a recession?
We understand this uncertainty and realize the stakes are high. Which is probably a reason academics and journalists like me have so closely scrutinized social media platforms and the notion of algorithmic radicalization. It’s not that we think people are easily brainwashed. It’s that like millennials, Gen Z has been thrust into a destabilized era dominated by fractured media distribution systems. And these systems are easily hijacked by opportunists, creating the perfect conditions for insurgent ideas to latch on.
But, as happens with most online communities, there’s a great deal of mythologizing and flattening. Abby Ohlheiser at the MIT Technology Review put it best this weekend in a tweet: “ … older generations of liberals are now talking about teens and Kpop fans in the same way that Trump boomers talk about 4chan: as vigilante forces they love but don’t understand.”
Reality is more complicated. In a recent article Ms. Ohlheiser quotes Keidra Chaney, a culture writer, who notes that white K-pop fans have received the bulk of credit in the press for the fandom’s anti-racist activism, obscuring the contributions and experiences of black fans. Ms. Chaney told Ms. Ohlheiser that it “feels like a punch in the gut — that we are being used for our social currency and then discarded.”
And the causes that Gen Z has rallied around are more widely varied than the recent excitement over the Trump rally ticket protest would suggest. Yes, there’s the youth climate-strike movement and the Parkland kids. In recent weeks, young Americans have poured into the streets to protest racial injustice and police violence against black Americans — 52 percent of all adults who have protested are between the ages of 18 and 29, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Across Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok, the same generation has organized donations and resources for protesters and are calling out their peers for racist behavior.
But members of the same generation are most likely also fueling far-right message board trolls, nihilist “Doomer” groups and extremist online communities with a disdain for political correctness. Their platforms of choice like TikTok still brim with unchecked extremist content and far-right conspiracy theories. These politics may not be evenly distributed but, as a recent Pew Research Center survey suggests, “members of Gen Z look similar to millennials in their political preferences,” which suggests that online extremism associated with millennials is likely to evolve in this successive generation.
And then there’s the unknown: A 2019 Business Insider survey of over 1,800 Gen Zers revealed that a majority did not identify as either conservative or liberal, a result of either indecision or disillusion or both. And yes, there’s speculation about how they’ll vote and in what numbers they’ll turn out. But regardless of their relationship to the ballot box, their politics and messaging abilities will have an outsize impact on culture.
Whatever their politics, they innately understand the dynamics of our information ecosystem and know how to wield attention as both a tool and a weapon. As with the rest of us, many of their most consequential social interactions are governed by algorithms; unlike the rest of us, they appear uniquely adept at reverse engineering them and intuiting their inputs, making the algorithms easier to manipulate. When these skills are put to use against the Trump campaign, climate deniers, the gun lobby and racists, the result is exhilaration for all but the far right.
But there’s no reason to believe these tactics belong exclusively to one ideology. Or even one nation. Especially as we look toward the 2020 election, it is crucial not to oversimplify complex narratives or to assume a tactical advantage in an information war. Lest we forget one of the lessons of the last presidential cycle: One group’s online activism is another’s “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: email@example.com.
Live Global Coronavirus News: U.S. Sets a Daily Record for New Cases
Here’s what you need to know:
- Four states, including Florida and Texas, report highest single-day totals as the U.S. reopens.
- How the virus stayed a step ahead of the American authorities.
- A C.D.C. study overlooks an important factor as it measures the effects of pregnancy on Covid-19 patients.
- In Guatemala and Honduras, the virus has riddled the corridors of power.
- Demand soars for a steroid that showed promise in treating severe cases, an analysis shows.
- Economists expect 1.3 million new state unemployment claims in the U.S.
- The challenges of maintaining a distance.
Four states, including Florida and Texas, report highest single-day totals as the U.S. reopens.
More than two months after the United States recorded its worst day of new infections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation set a record on Wednesday as it reported 36,880 new cases.
The number of infections indicated that the country was not only failing to contain the virus, but also that the caseload was worsening — a path at odds with many other nations that have seen steady declines after an earlier peak. Cases in the United States had been on a downward trajectory after the previous high of 36,739 cases on April 24, but they have roared back in recent weeks.
The resurgence is concentrated largely in the South and West. Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas reported their highest single-day totals on Wednesday, but case numbers have been rising in more than 20 states.
The tally of new cases, based on a New York Times database, showed that the outbreak was stronger than ever. The elevated numbers are a result of worsening conditions across much of the country, as well as increased testing — but testing alone does not explain the surge. The percentage of people in Florida who have tested positive for the virus has risen sharply. Increases in hospitalizations also signal the virus’s spread.
Some states, including New York, which at one point had the most daily virus cases, have brought their numbers under control. Hoping to keep it that way, New York — along with Connecticut and New Jersey — said it would institute a quarantine for some out-of-state travelers.
As of Wednesday, more than 2.3 million Americans have been infected and about 122,000 have died.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said that his state had recorded more than 7,000 new cases over the previous day.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave no indication that the state would roll back its economic opening, but he urged residents to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowds and close contact with others.
Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, continued to attribute the rising infections, especially in cities, to younger people who have started to socialize in bars and homes, in spite of rules in many municipalities prohibiting group gatherings. He pressed older people to keep staying home as much as possible, and pleaded with young people to be responsible.
“You need to do your part and make sure that you’re not spreading it to people who are going to be more at risk for this,” he said.
Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina announced that the state would pause reopening for three weeks and require face masks. In Texas, more than 4,300 people with the virus are hospitalized, more than double the number at the beginning of June.
The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that if the Americas were not able to stop the spread of the virus, there may be a need to impose — or reimpose — general lockdowns.
“It is very difficult to take the sting out of this pandemic unless we are able to successfully isolate cases and quarantine contacts,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the W.H.O. health emergencies program. “In the absence of a capacity to do that, then the specter of further lockdowns cannot be excluded.”
He said that the growing number of coronavirus cases in the Americas had not peaked and that the region was likely to see sustained numbers of cases and deaths in the coming weeks.
How the virus stayed a step ahead of the American authorities.
By mid-February, there were only 15 known coronavirus cases in the United States, all with direct links to China.
The patients were isolated. Their contacts were monitored. Travel from China was restricted.
But none of that worked, as some 2,000 hidden infections were already spreading through major cities.
At every crucial moment, American officials were weeks or months behind the reality of the outbreak. Those delays likely cost tens of thousands of lives.
The Times has analyzed travel patterns, hidden infections and genetic data to show how the epidemic spun out of control in the United States.
In other news from around the country:
The cliffhanger elections on Tuesday in Kentucky and New York were what election officials called a preview of what could happen after the polls close in November: no clear and immediate winner in the presidential race.
The record number of mailed-in ballots during the pandemic has made vote-counting more unwieldy, and election administrators are straining to deliver timely results.
The Democratic National Convention will move out of Milwaukee’s professional basketball arena, and state delegations are being urged not to travel to the city because of concerns about the pandemic, party officials said on Wednesday.
With no major outbreaks among its workers, the U.S. auto industry is nearly back to pre-pandemic production levels, and vehicle sales have perked up more than many industry executives had expected.
The Walt Disney Company on Wednesday abandoned a plan to reopen its California theme parks on July 17, citing a slower-than-anticipated approval process by state regulators. The announcement came after some employees had criticized the reopening timetable as too fast.
Travelers to Hawaii can avoid the state’s 14-day quarantine by showing a negative result from a valid coronavirus test, Gov. David Ige of Hawaii announced. The program begins Aug. 1.
A C.D.C. study overlooks an important factor as it measures the effects of pregnancy on Covid-19 patients.
Pregnant women infected with the coronavirus are more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit and put on a ventilator than are infected women who are not pregnant, according to a new government analysis presented to a federal immunization committee on Wednesday.
Pregnant women are known to be particularly susceptible to other respiratory infections, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained from the start of the pandemic that the virus does not seem to “affect pregnant people differently than others.”
The increased risk for intensive care and mechanical ventilation worried experts. But the new study, by C.D.C. researchers, did not include one pivotal detail: whether pregnant women were hospitalized because of labor and delivery. That may have significantly inflated the numbers, so it is unclear whether the analysis reflects a true increase in the risk of hospitalization.
Admission for delivery represents 25 percent of all hospitalizations in the United States, said Dr. Neel Shah, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard University. Even at earlier stages of pregnancy, doctors err on the side of being overly cautious when treating pregnant women — whether they have the coronavirus or not.
The analysis, the largest of its type so far, is based on data from women with confirmed infections of the coronavirus as reported to the C.D.C. by 50 states, as well as New York City and Washington, from Jan. 22 to June 7.
Despite the ambiguities, some experts said that the new data suggested at the very least that pregnant women with the coronavirus should be carefully monitored.
“I think the bottom line is this: These findings suggest that compared to nonpregnant women, pregnant women are more likely to have severe Covid,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, head of the Covid-19 task force for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In Guatemala and Honduras, the virus has riddled the corridors of power.
Coronavirus contagions have struck at the heart of two Central American governments that are struggling to contain outbreaks in their countries. In one, Guatemala, scores of presidential staff members have fallen ill; in another, Honduras, the pathogen has sickened the president himself.
The condition of President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, who was hospitalized last week and who has pneumonia after testing positive for the coronavirus, was improving after adjustments were made to his treatment this week, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by his office.
Doctors detected a worsening of the pneumonia on Monday, with falling oxygen levels and increasing inflammation, the statement said, but exams on Wednesday showed “a good general condition, without fever, without respiratory difficulty” and with a decrease in inflammation.
In neighboring Guatemala, the number of members of the presidential staff who have tested positive for the virus has climbed to 158, President Alejandro Giammattei said on Wednesday.
The employees work in Mr. Giammattei’s official residential compound in Guatemala City’s historic center, and they include members of his security detail and workers on the compound’s cleaning and kitchen staffs.
Officials first announced the outbreak in early June, when there were a few dozen cases.
Mr. Giammattei said on Wednesday that one of the infected employees, a member of the presidential security service, had died.
The president, however, said that he had been tested three times and that the results had been negative.
In other news from around the world:
The top U.N. relief official warned on Wednesday of a drastic worsening in the outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where he said that 25 percent of those infected die — about five times the global average.
Many deaths are most likely going unreported, said the official, Mark Lowcock, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. But there is one unmistakable measure of the virus’s toll: “Burial prices in some areas have increased by seven times compared to a few months ago,” he said.
About 4,000 members of a South Korean church who recovered from Covid-19 have agreed to donate their blood plasma for medical research, the church said.
The Australian airline Qantas will cut roughly a fifth of its work force as it joins other carriers grappling with the near halt in global travel. In addition to the reductions of at least 6,000 jobs, the company will also keep another 15,000 workers on furlough until flying resumes. It will also retire its six Boeing 747 jumbo jets six months ahead of schedule.
The pilots of a Pakistani airliner that crashed last month in Karachi were busy talking about the coronavirus and repeatedly ignored directions from air traffic controllers before their plane went down, killing 98 people, Pakistan’s aviation minister said on Wednesday.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, one of the most visited monuments in the world, reopened on Thursday after a three-month shutdown. Visitors will be allowed only as far as the second floor, and anyone over the age of 11 must wear a face mask.
Demand soars for a steroid that showed promise in treating severe cases, an analysis shows.
Scientists around the world last week cautiously hailed a report that an inexpensive and commonly available steroid had reduced deaths in patients with severe Covid-19. The drug, dexamethasone, is now in high demand, with orders among some U.S. hospitals rising by more than 600 percent in the week after the report, according to an analysis released on Thursday.
In a news conference on Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said interest in the drug had “surged” after announcements of its “clear benefit.” Dr. Tedros called for a sharp increase in production, while urging continued vigilance about recommended public health measures such as increased testing, contact tracing, physical distancing and hygiene.
The analysis by Vizient, an American health care services company, highlighted dexamethasone’s spike in popularity. Vizient serves more than 5,000 nonprofit health care system members and their affiliates.
Dexamethasone is frequently administered to patients with various conditions that involve excess inflammation, including arthritis, allergic reactions and certain gastrointestinal disorders. The drug, prized for its ability to tamp down certain aspects of the immune system, appears to ease the severity of some of the worst cases of Covid-19. For many infected by the coronavirus, the most severe consequences arise when immune cells and molecules, roused to fight the virus, cannot be kept in check.
Experts caution that dexamethasone is not a cure-all. Patients with milder cases of Covid-19, particularly those not on respiratory support, did not benefit from the drug, the trial’s results showed. And if the steroid is administered too early in an infection, it might even quell the immune system to a degree that compromises a person’s ability to vanquish the virus.
Economists expect 1.3 million new state unemployment claims in the U.S.
With businesses reopening in fits and starts and anxiety increasing over new coronavirus hot spots, the latest unemployment reading on Thursday is likely to offer scant comfort.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect the Labor Department to report that 1.3 million new claims for state unemployment insurance were filed last week, with 20 million people continuing to collect state benefits. If the experts are correct, it would be the 14th week in a row that new claims have topped one million.
The latest data will be published amid conflicting signals for the economy. New York and some other badly affected places are starting to get back to business. But a surge in cases in states that reopened earlier has raised fears of setbacks.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas urged residents to stay home and warned that the state might have to impose new restrictions if the virus could not be contained. And California and Florida have each posted record numbers of new cases in recent days.
Apple shut stores it had reopened in four states — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina — and on Wednesday, the company closed seven stores in Houston.
“The renewed outbreak will hinder the recovery,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “I can’t help but think that the willingness of consumers to be in crowded places has diminished. It’s going to be a long haul to get back to where we were before the pandemic.”
The challenges of maintaining a distance.
With eased lockdowns in many places, keeping the recommended distance from others this summer has become more complicated. Here are ideas for handling conflicts over differing ideas of what is safe.
Reporting was contributed by Brooks Barnes, Weiyi Cai, Benedict Carey, Choe Sang-Hun, Reid J. Epstein, Rick Gladstone, James Glanz, Shane Goldmacher, Josh Holder, Apoorva Mandavilli, Salman Masood, Nelson D. Schwartz, Kirk Semple, Mitch Smith, Chris Stanford, Carlos Tejada, Daniel Victor, Derek Watkins, Jeremy Whit, Nic Wirtz and Katherine J. Wu.
Arizona ‘Overwhelmed’ With Demand for Tests as U.S. System Shows Strain
People seeking drive-up coronavirus tests in Phoenix faced a three-mile-long car line last weekend. On Friday, Arizona’s largest laboratory received twice as many samples as it could process. The phone line for testing appointments at a large site on the state fairgrounds now opens at 7 a.m. with 800 callers already in the queue.
By 7:07 a.m., all 1,000 appointments for the day are typically taken.
“We are literally overwhelmed with the numbers requested,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer at Banner Health, the hospital system that runs the fairground site. “The testing is very popular, and very needed, but we don’t have enough of it.”
The United States’ coronavirus testing capacity has begun to strain as the pandemic continues to spread, with over 35,000 cases recorded Tuesday. Across the country, more than a dozen public laboratories say they are now “challenged” to meet the demand.
The problem has become especially acute in Arizona, where rapid spread of the virus has left health care providers and medical labs no longer able to meet testing demands.
Inadequate testing capacity has hampered the American coronavirus response since the start of the pandemic. When the federal government distributed faulty test kits in February, states were unable to monitor the disease’s early spread.
Since then, no national testing strategy has emerged. Local governments and health providers largely decide where to offer testing. And the bottlenecks today are strikingly similar to those in the pandemic’s early weeks: laboratories unable to obtain the machines they need to run more tests, scrambling to hire enough workers to staff them, and a fragmented laboratory system that makes it hard for hospitals and doctor’s offices to coordinate with facilities that could handle excess volume.
American labs continue to compete with one another as well as those abroad for testing supplies like swabs used to collect samples and the machines that process the material.
“The global supply for high-volume instruments has not been able to keep up with global demand, and that is a critical factor to increase testing capacity,” said Julie Khani, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association. “I don’t think there is any laboratory that has an abundance, or stockpile, of any type of supplies right now.”
The surges in cases happen so quickly — some labs have seen their demand double or triple in a matter of days — that health providers have little time to broker relationships with new testing partners.
“I’m continuously frustrated that this is still a problem,” said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious diseases at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “We should be at a place where getting a test isn’t as challenging as it used to be.”
National testing capacity has expanded significantly since the start of the pandemic, recently reaching half a million daily tests. Federal health officials testified at a congressional hearing this week that the country has the capacity to do 15 million coronavirus tests per month; they expect that number to reach 40 million to 50 million by the fall. Experts have estimated that at least 500,000 coronavirus tests daily are what the country needs to safely reopen.
But that target is a nationwide figure, and it does not account for extra testing that states and cities need to manage large outbreaks. No coordinating entity exists to help overwhelmed labs find extra capacity elsewhere.
Testing demands have grown with each day as states reopen, with employers looking to check workers who are back on the job. Some states now require certain health facilities, such as nursing homes, to regularly test their employees. Local governments are setting up new contact-tracing units that will also require ready access to tests.
Federal officials have offered mixed messages about what testing capacity is needed. The Trump administration recently phased out support for some federally funded testing sites, transferring control to the states. At a rally last week in Tulsa, Okla., President Trump said he had asked to “slow the testing down” because it was increasing the number of confirmed cases. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before Congress on Tuesday that he had not received any instructions to reduce testing. Instead, he told legislators that “we need to do much, much more surveillance testing.”
Ms. Wroblewski’s organization has run regular surveys of its members to measure their testing capacity. Of the 88 laboratories that responded last week, 13 said they faced challenges meeting demand.
Those struggling to keep up, Ms. Wroblewski said, tended to be labs serving areas facing a new and large outbreak. “The nature of public lab testing is that they tend to look into outbreaks,” she said. “There are cases of increased demand, and it can take a week to adjust, to pull the staff and change the work flow.”
Testing has also become more challenging as temperatures rise. Many health providers run outdoor drive-up sites to lower the risk of disease transmission. That becomes less feasible in the heat, and some testing sites have had to close.
All of these challenges have become acute in Arizona, which has gone from reporting several hundred daily cases last month to 3,000-plus some days this week. The state recorded its highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Monday.
Sonora Quest, the state’s largest medical laboratory, received more than 12,000 coronavirus samples last Friday — twice as many as it can process in a day. “This is not a position we want to be in,” said Sonya Engle, the laboratory’s chief operating officer.
For the past two months, Sonora Quest operated with ample capacity: It could run about 5,000 tests daily, but typically the demand was for only 2,400. Testing demand grew quickly this month as the disease spread.
The lab increased capacity to 6,000 daily tests by running machines all day, every day. It would like to go even higher, but the new testing machine it ordered in May won’t arrive until July at the earliest.
“The suppliers are doing as much as they can,” Ms. Engle said. “But demand is exceeding their ability to deliver at this time.”
Many of Sonora Quest’s tests come from large drive-through sites that have not met patient demand. Equality Health, a network of medical clinics in Phoenix, had overwhelming demand at its drive-through testing event last Saturday. The clinic planned to test about 500 people but 1,000 showed up. Some had to be turned away when the site ran out of test kits.
“This is something that is usually done by health departments, not small health clinics,” said Dr. Edmond Baker, Equality Health’s medical director.
Equality Health will host another drive-up testing event this weekend. It closed registration Monday evening — five days before the event — after receiving 1,142 sign-ups.
Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, used to run five drive-through testing sites. In the last few weeks, as temperatures surpassed 100 degrees, it has closed all but one; it became untenable to have workers collect samples all day outdoors. Banner Health has closed four sites and moved all testing operations to the state fairgrounds, where workers in fan-cooled tents see 1,000 people a day.
The hospital system has space on the fairgrounds to see more patients but is limited by the availability of test kits. The Banner Health testing site takes about a week to return results. Dr. Bessel, the chief clinical officer, worries that those lags contribute to further spread of the disease.
“One of the downsides of long turnaround times is that some patients may start feeling better, and assume they’re negative,” she said. “They might make the run to the grocery store or get a coffee with a friend, when they really should not be doing that.”
Results for hospitalized patients, which are prioritized, have also slowed and can take more than a day to come back. That interferes with treatment and can cause health workers to use more of their scarce protective equipment.
“We can’t start convalescent plasma or remdesivir if your test is still pending,” Dr. Bessel said. “I don’t want to paint a picture of nothing being done, but having a test result helps move care along.”
Virus Cases Are Soaring in Texas. But Closing Down Again Is a ‘Last Option.’
HOUSTON — The coronavirus has been testing America’s governors. Few are being squeezed harder than Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.
Mr. Abbott, the governor of the country’s largest Republican-controlled state, reopened Texas in May, eager to be part of President Trump’s push to restart the economy sooner rather than later. But the reopening has backfired, creating the makings of a political and public health disaster that is putting the lives of Texans at risk, adding ammunition to Mr. Abbott’s long-running war with the Democrats who run the state’s biggest cities and drawing unusually sharp criticism from fellow Republicans.
As millions of Texans have emerged from weeks of isolation and headed to shopping malls, movie theaters and beaches, the governor, faced with an alarming number of new cases, did an abrupt about-face this week and urged people to go back home.
He imposed restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people and has cleared the way for local authorities to require face masks in businesses — after earlier opposing attempts by local officials to require everyone in their cities to wear masks in public.
These were the latest in a series of contradictory moves by the governor that have proved confusing and frustrating to many Texans.
For weeks, Mr. Abbott had reassured Texans that the virus was largely under control. “Covid-19, while dangerous, while still growing in the state of Texas, is not as severe as it is in some other states,” he told reporters in April.
But as the state began to rapidly reopen, and people returned to restaurants, bars, malls, hair salons and gyms, the numbers — and the governor’s tone and policy responses — have changed.
New cases, hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests have been on the rise for weeks, indicators that the coronavirus is spreading rapidly. Since late May, the average number of newly reported cases each day has more than doubled to about 3,500, up from 1,500. That is not just the result of more testing: The percentage of tests coming back positive has soared from 4.5 percent to about 9 percent. Hospitalizations are also on the rise.
Texas has surpassed more than 100,000 cases, joining a small club of only six other states to do so — New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and Florida. On Wednesday, Texas hit another milestone, recording more new cases in a single day than it has since the start of the pandemic — more than 6,200 new infections.
Wednesday brought another turnabout. Texas had previously ordered all air travelers arriving from New York, with its then-booming number of cases, to quarantine for 14 days. But on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York turned the tables and announced that travelers from Texas and eight other hard-hit states would have to quarantine there.
The sudden reversal has left Mr. Abbott with few good options and an array of critics from both parties — some of them the leaders of the state’s largely Democratic major cities, who have complained that the state reopened too quickly and tied their hands when they wanted to impose virus-control measures of their own.
“The governor opens up our economy and says, ‘OK, you guys go back to work,’ and we expect nothing to happen?” said Ruben Becerra, a Democrat and the county executive in Hays County, southwest of Austin, where total confirmed cases have surged from 353 on June 1 to more than 2,100 on Wednesday.
Mr. Abbott is by no means alone. Other states led by Republican governors have struggled to balance their reopenings with the spread of the virus, while navigating the politics of mask-wearing and issues of state versus local control.
In Arizona, the handling of the pandemic by Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has come under intense criticism by Democratic leaders in Arizona’s largest cities. Mr. Ducey had resisted allowing mayors to make mask-wearing mandatory in their cities. But under pressure over a surge in cases, Mr. Ducey allowed mayors to implement their own measures.
On Wednesday, Florida saw a record number of new coronavirus cases, but Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, gave no indication that the state would roll back its reopening, urging people instead to avoid crowds and closed spaces with poor ventilation.
Texas, though, is facing a challenge of both politics and numbers. If local trends persist, Houston could become the hardest-hit city in the country, rivaling the situation in Brazil, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, warned this week on Twitter.
Dr. Hotez, one of the state’s leading experts on contagious diseases and vaccine development, said in an interview on Wednesday that the Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan regions “are facing a dire public health emergency.”
The governor should require face masks and tougher social distancing measures in those four regions immediately, he said. “We have to take action before the end of this week,” he said. “If we don’t do something, there’s nothing to stop this thing going up the ceiling.”
Dr. Hotez and other public health experts, along with several local elected officials, have blamed the uptick in the virus on Mr. Abbott’s decision to speedily reopen the state. They said businesses were allowed to resume operations before the state had enough testing, contact tracing and other resources in place.
The results surfaced immediately in cities around the state.
San Antonio’s Bexar County had 93 patients in county hospitals on June 1, 20 of them on ventilators; by Tuesday, those numbers had jumped to 518 hospitalized, with 79 on ventilators.
“As we opened up Texas, everybody became very complacent and were not wearing face masks,” said Nelson W. Wolff, a Democrat who serves as the top elected official in Bexar County. “Then you have the president running around and not wearing one, and the governor only recommending it, not enforcing it, and so I think people got mixed signals, and we have seen it spread exponentially.”
Mr. Abbott, a former Texas attorney general now in his second term, has been praised for his calm and swift handling of Hurricane Harvey, mass shootings and other large-scale disasters. But he has also been criticized, even by some in his own party, for too often following the lead of the state’s second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an outspoken arch-conservative who made national headlines for saying he and other grandparents were willing accept the threat to their own lives if that is what it took to reopen the country.
Mr. Abbott, his aides and his supporters defended his response to Covid-19 and said Texas can both reopen its economy and maintain public health.
“People must know the facts,” Mr. Abbott told KTVT in Fort Worth on Tuesday. “The facts are that Covid-19 is expanding far faster and far wider than at any time during the pandemic in Texas. That is why we are having to take additional measures.”
But the governor has had to carefully navigate the state’s complicated politics in trying to control the virus.
The phased opening-up has fueled a backlash among some conservatives, who resist wearing masks in public and say the state needs to go even further. (Bars now operate at 50 percent capacity, while restaurants operate at 75 percent capacity.)
In just one example of the politics at play, the Texas Democratic Party held an online-only convention recently, while the Republican Party is planning an in-person convention in Houston in July.
Mr. Abbott has leaned on conservative, pro-business, small-government themes, but has also sent conflicting messages.
The governor initially resisted calls to issue a stay-at-home order, as other states had done, before issuing an executive order in early April. But even that led to a flurry of confusion, when he said at a news conference that it did not amount to a stay-at-home order. The next day, he released a video message clarifying that it did.
The order lasted 28 days, one of the shortest stay-at-home orders in the country.
Since businesses began reopening in early May, Mr. Abbott has gone head-to-head with the mostly Democratic mayors in the state’s largest cities, who have begged for more power to impose tougher restrictions. At first, Mr. Abbott’s approach was to let local officials handle the response. Then he shifted course, issuing an executive order that made it clear the state’s coronavirus rules nullified local ones. His stance shifted again in recent days when he allowed cities and counties to require businesses to have customers and employees wear masks and to fine business owners who did not comply.
Democratic critics who had been fighting for more local control said the governor’s turnabout came too late. Some Republicans saw Mr. Abbott’s move as throwing business owners under the bus.
“Business owners will become a de facto law enforcement arm, but the only tool they will have to enforce the mask requirement is to refuse to sell to their customers and to kick them out of their store,” State Senator Bob Hall, a Republican from East Texas, wrote in a posting online. “Who knew the flame of Texas Liberty would be extinguished, by the stroke of a pen, without a shot fired?”
In Galveston, a beach city southeast of Houston, Mayor James D. Yarbrough ordered mandatory face masks for all businesses starting on Tuesday. The number of people who tested positive rose to more than 300 this week from about 50 at the end of May.
The city has seen packed beaches and crowds in restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.
“There is no social distance — there are minimal masks,” said Mr. Yarbrough, a Democrat. “We are seeing a lot more younger people, what we call day trippers,” he said. “They come to spend the day and leave their trash and Covid and go on back.”
Manny Fernandez reported from Houston, Neil MacFarquhar from New York and Sarah Mervosh from Pittsburgh. Contributing reporting were David Montgomery from Austin, Simon Romero from Albuquerque and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.
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