US coronavirus outbreaks spur debate over personal freedoms

PHOENIX (AP) - When the corona virus flared up in China this week, the country canceled flights, paused the reopening, and described the situation as "extremely serious." However, with the increasing number of cases in some U.S. states, local officials have refused to even require masks to be worn.
In the United States, where most of the world's cases and deaths have been reported, authorities struggle with balancing demands for constitutional rights and personal freedom with warnings from health officials that neglect will have fatal consequences.
China responded to a new outbreak in Beijing on Wednesday by scrapping more than 60% of its flights to the capital, canceling classes, and tightening social distance requirements. It was a sharp retreat for the nation that declared victory over COVID-19 in March.
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"This has really sounded an alarm bell for us," Party Secretary Cai Qi said at a meeting of the Beijing Communist Party Standing Committee.
China's response to about 137 new cases was a fraction of the number that some countries see daily. In Arizona alone, more than 1,100 people went to emergency rooms on Tuesday with positive or suspected cases. Alabama also quickly runs out of hospital space, leading to a passionate debate about whether masks are required. Other states that have not prescribed facewear, such as Texas and Florida, are also seeing rising infections.
With masks as a political symbol, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has targeted President Donald Trump's approach to the pandemic.
“Donald Trump wants to profile himself as a war president. Unlike any other wartime leader, he takes no responsibility, he does not exercise leadership, now he has simply given up the fight, ”said Biden on Wednesday.
Biden has repeatedly worn a mask at public events, but not Trump, even on occasions such as visiting auto factories where they are needed. Aid workers say Trump believes that they are not flattering and that wearing one causes weakness.
The mask debate is happening nationwide, especially in severely affected countries where face covering has become a political and cultural debate.
Hundreds of medical professionals signed a letter asking the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, to request it. He has encouraged people to use masks, but has not worn any at press conferences and refused calls to request them. He also refused to impose new restrictions on companies, attributing the rise in Arizona in cases to increased testing.
Arizona has done more tests, which can lead to more cases. However, health experts say that a better way to determine if more people are getting sick is to examine the percentage of positive tests. If this percentage increases, it means that the outbreak is worsening - not just that more people are being tested.
Arizona leads the nation with the highest average positive test rate of seven days: 17.7%, or about twice the national average, and well above the 10% threshold that health officials find worrying. It has also had the most new per capita cases in the US in the past 14 days. The state's leading hospital system says he's almost running out of beds.
Several restaurants and other companies have also closed, as employees have tested positive over the past week.
The same is happening in parts of Florida, where people under the age of 35 have been performing positive tests more often since the pandemic started, which in some cases is contributing to an increase in cases, officials said on Wednesday.
The coastal city of St. Petersburg had three popular bars nearby after employees tested positive.
"It happens nationwide. Ideally, we would have a leadership from above, and that would be a nationwide decision, ”said Mayor Rick Kriseman.
The Democrat said Republican Governor Ron DeSantis encouraged people to use masks but did not instruct them.
The cases in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg is located, have shifted from assisted dormitories and nursing homes to younger people, said County Commissioner Ken Welch. He said 25% of the cases are in the African American community.
DeSantis said he had no intention of closing Florida's economy despite the new cases, and said that many of the sick were young and therefore unlikely to suffer serious illness or death.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, this can lead to more serious illnesses, including pneumonia and death.
Fear of an increasing number of infections among younger people has prompted San Antonio region officials to order masks publicly as COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to rise in Texas.
"What we're doing here is protecting the life and safety of the San Antonio community," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, adding that most infections in the region occur in people under 40 years of age.
It comes after Texas governor Greg Abbott urged people to take more responsibility for curbing the spread of the virus, but said he didn't need masks. The second most populated state reached a record high in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, 2,793, an increase of 85% since Memorial Day.
In Montgomery, Alabama, where there are more and more cases, masks were worn during a city council meeting where members rejected a proposal to hire 25 or more people at public gatherings. Health officials said they were crucial to contain the flood.
Dr. Bill Saliski, a lung specialist at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, asked the city to meet a mask requirement and said, "If this continues, we will be overrun."
Montgomery County added more than 700 coronavirus cases last week, more than any other county in Alabama, with a total of 2,922 infections. The virus has disproportionately affected the African American population there.
Some city guides expressed concern about trampling on human rights.
"I think getting someone to do something or force someone to carry is overreaching," said City Councilor Brantley Lyons.
Since the virus appeared in China late last year and has spread worldwide, Johns Hopkins University has reported more than 8 million confirmed cases and over 445,000 deaths. Experts say the real toll is much higher. The death toll in the United States has exceeded 117,000.
The European nations that went through a major reopening this week were watching Asia and America with concern.
After the blockade restrictions in Iran were relaxed, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said he saw the scale of the challenge when he made a domestic flight.
"Many people have become careless and frustrated to wear masks," he said. "They did not observe any (social) distance in the seats of the flight and the ventilation system of the commercial aircraft did not work."
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Moritsugu from Beijing and Pane from Boise, Idaho. Associated press reporters around the world have contributed to this.
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Follow AP pandemic reporting at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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