Hospitalizations for the novel coronavirus are on the rise in at least eight states, in what experts and officials said was in part an expected consequence of states reopening their economies, but also made worse by some people who have begun to disregard social distancing guidelines and aren’t appropriately wearing masks.
The states in which the hospitalization numbers are increasing are Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, according to a new analysis by ABC News of public data from the past two weeks.
In a few cases, the increases are stark, and hospitals are beginning to once again see signs of the surges that overwhelmed them during the height of the pandemic.
Arkansas, for instance, has experienced a 74% increase in average hospitalizations since after the Memorial Day weekend, and one official in the state told ABC News some hospitals there are “nervous.” Arizona has seen a 49% increase in the same time frame, and an official there said hospitals are “definitely strained.”
ABC News’ analysis of state data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer project launched by The Atlantic, further showed that five states had mostly flat hospitalization rates, while the majority of states, 37, saw a downward trend.
Dr. John Brownstein, a Harvard Medical School professor, said there are “many reasons” why some states might see a rise in hospitalizations when others do not, but he singled out social distancing practices for potentially contributing to the increases.
“While reopening is happening everywhere, social distancing practices are highly variable,” he said. “Memorial Day events looked quite different from state to state.”
Brownstein, an ABC News contributor, said that “unfortunately,” it’s not surprising some states would see an increase in hospitalizations as people intermingle more and more.
“If places with active transmission open up too fast, our forecasts for mortality will, unfortunately, have to go up as well,” he said.
Increases in the raw number of positive cases are also occurring in at least 21 states plus Puerto Rico, ABC News has previously reported, but many experts consider hospitalization rate to be a more accurate measure of disease spread, as new case counts can be artificially driven up by an increase in testing, creating a false perception of increase.
And while some states are seeing more significant increases in hospitalizations than others, public health officials or local experts in each of the eight states with increased hospitalizations told ABC News they consider the rises to be related to a reopening of the economy or a disregard of social distancing guidelines, including rejecting wearing masks.
Some top government officials have expressed concern that the ongoing nationwide protests could also contribute to the spread of the virus, but experts told ABC News it’s too early to gauge whether that has been the case.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, addressed some of the reopening concerns on Wednesday, urging states to recognize that “when you open, that doesn’t mean that everything is okay.”
“You still have to practice a degree of caution and carefully go through the process of trying to normalize. That means you still should be wearing a mask. You still should be trying as best as possible to have that physical distancing,” Fauci told Robin Roberts on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. “We know everyone wants to approach normality and get things back to normal including the economy, but that doesn’t mean that all bets are off. And that’s the reason why we say be careful and do it prudently.”