Baseball season teeters, while states resist mask rules
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The baseball season descended deeper into crisis Tuesday, states such as Mississippi and South Carolina cast about for more hospital beds, and governors in some of the hardest-hit places staunchly resisted calls to require masks, despite soaring cases of the coronavirus.
Major league baseball suspended the Miami Marlins’ season through Sunday because of an outbreak that has spread to at least 15 of the team’s players, and a series of games this week between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies was also called off.
With states like Florida, Arizona and Texas in dire condition, the virus has also been spreading farther north in recent days, causing alarm among public health officials who fear states are not doing enough to avoid catastrophic outbreaks like those in the Sun Belt.
Florida reported 191 new deaths, another one-day high for the state, while Arizona recorded 104, and Arkansas had a single-day record with 20.
The virus is blamed for approximately 4.3 million confirmed infections and about 150,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more than 16.5 million people have been infected, and more than 655,000 have died.
Republican governors in Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina have all resisted calls to close bars and gyms or issue statewide mask requirements, though local officials have imposed some of their own restrictions.
In Mississippi, nine of the state’s biggest hospitals had no open intensive care beds as of Monday, and officials are considering opening pop-up facilities to provide more space. More than 24 percent of coronavirus tests have come back positive in Mississippi over the past week, the highest rate in the nation and triple the national average
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has gone so far as to argue that because mask-wearing has become political, a statewide mandate could actually discourage people from covering their faces. Instead, he is requiring masks only in the most seriously stricken counties.
Terry Sullivan, general manager of Fondren Fitness in Jackson, said a statewide requirement would be “the right thing to do.”
“I know it’s a hot topic, but if we can all just wear masks and really do right for a month, it would help a lot to try and slow this down in Mississippi,” he said. “If we don’t, it’s not going to slow down.”
In Missouri, larger cities are growing rattled by a spike in cases after the state fully reopened. GOP Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly refused to enact a statewide order requiring masks, citing relatively few cases in most of the state compared with hot spots in bigger cities.
Parson said last month that he didn’t believe the governor has personal responsibility for any virus, and compared the illness that has killed almost 1,000 people in his state to the flu. He said no one would expect him to take responsibility if someone were involved in an accident on a Missouri road.
The uncertainty has put restaurant owners in a difficult position.
Brian Schmitz, co-owner of The Bellwether and the Polite Society in St. Louis, closed the two restaurants temporarily after a guest expressed concerns Sunday that another diner recently made a social media post about testing positive for COVID-19. Schmitz said that the buildings have been deep cleaned and that he is testing staff before reopening, and it is proving costly.
But “the stakes are higher than money,” he said. “Money hurts, don’t get me wrong. But we all work to live not the other way around and this puts that in stark contrast.”
The situation in Tennessee is precarious enough that White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx traveled to Nashville to implore leaders to close bars and residents to wear masks.
But Republican Gov. Bill Lee has vowed he won’t shut down the state’s economy again and has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate.
As of Tuesday, nearly 1,100 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee -– the highest the state has seen in the past two weeks. Statewide, ICUs are running at 86 percent capacity.
Nearly 70% of the state has issued some sort of mask mandate. However, enforcement has varied, with some law enforcement officials hesitating to issue citations.
In Nashville, the city’s famous honky tonks have seen large crowds despite a strict 10 p.m. curfew that went into effect last week. Nursing homes in more than 70 counties have been forced to once again forbid visitors.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt returned to his office Monday after two weeks of isolating at home following a positive coronavirus test. His return came on the same day the state reported over 1,400 new cases — the second consecutive day of record highs.
Hospitals looked to increase capacity. The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, South Carolina, began setting up tents outside for recovering patients.
“We saw an uptick and we wanted to be ahead of it.,” said Dr. John Samies, the hospital’s chief of medical staff.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expressed worry that the virus could spread even further after Hurricane Hanna over the weekend forced people to gather together indoors.
The Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City — the only hospital in the county, situated along the Mexican border — was already strained before the hurricane struck. It has only 50 beds and no intensive care unit, and has been at capacity for weeks.
“We’re in a dire situation,” Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal said. “If we continue on the same trajectory, countless more lives will be lost.”
The storm’s lashing winds and rain grounded medical flights for days, preventing patients from being flown to other hospitals. Some waited as long as 48 hours for a bed. Eventually, another overcrowded hospital along the border agreed to take a few patients to ease the strain.
In Europe, rising infections in Spain and other countries are causing alarm, weeks after nations reopened borders to revive tourism.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his decision to recommend against nonessential travel to Spain, traditionally a popular summer vacation destination.
“Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends,” he said. “I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.”
Forliti contributed from Minneapolis, Hollingsworth contributed from Mission, Kansas.