(Reuters) - The city of Philadelphia and several large U.S. states on Monday announced strict new limits on social gatherings and commercial activity to tamp down a coronavirus surge threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems and claim thousands more lives in the weeks ahead.
New Jersey, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania’s largest city joined a growing list of states and local jurisdictions re-imposing tough measures designed to blunt a nationwide spike in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, following a summertime ebb.
Health experts warn the coming holiday travel season and the onset of colder weather will only exacerbate the trend, with people more likely to congregate indoors.
More than 70,000 Americans were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 as of Monday, the most ever at any time since the pandemic began, according to a Reuters tally of public health figures.
The number of U.S. infections documented to date surpassed 11 million on Monday, a little more than a week after crossing the 10-million mark - the fastest time it has taken for the national tally to grow by an additional 1 million cases.
PHILADELPHIA GETS TOUGH
In one of the most aggressive actions taken to confront the looming crisis, Philadelphia officials on Monday ordered a ban on “indoor gatherings of any size in any location, public or private,” except among individuals who live together.
“We need to keep this virus from jumping from one household to another,” city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told a news conference.
If the current rate of “exponential” growth in cases continues, hospitals will soon be strained to their limits and more than 1,000 people could die in Pennsylvania’s largest city over the next six weeks, Farley said.
In neighboring New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states in the early phase of the pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy said he was ordering indoor gatherings of individuals from different households to limit to 10 people, down from 25, while the mandatory cap on outdoor gatherings will be lowered next week to 150 from 500.
On the other side of the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he was applying “emergency brakes” to his reopening plan, citing a doubling in the daily number of COVID-19 cases reported across the state over the past 10 days.
Under Newsom’s announcement, commercial and social restrictions will be tightened starting Tuesday in 40 of the state’s 58 counties, covering the vast majority of its 40 million residents.
The crackdown means no indoor service in bars and restaurants and more restrictions on many other businesses and public gatherings. California is also strengthening its face covering guidance to require individuals to wear a mask whenever outside their home, with limited exceptions, Newsom said.
OHIO & OKLAHOMA
In Ohio, where daily case tallies have increased by 17% and total hospitalizations by at least 25% in the past week, the state’s health department issued a revised order to limit mass gatherings starting on Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine announced.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced a new 11 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants starting on Thursday, while some 33,000 state employees will be required to wear masks at work beginning on Wednesday.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham urged residents to stay home for all but essential activities. “We face a life-or-death situation and we cannot fail to act,” Grisham wrote on Twitter.
Michigan and Washington state on Sunday imposed sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including halting indoor restaurant service.
The flurry of measures came as 40 states have reported record daily increases in COVID-19 cases this month, while 20 states have registered all-time highs in daily coronavirus-related deaths and 26 reported new peaks in hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.
The United States as a whole has averaged more than 148,000 new cases a day, and 1,120 daily deaths, over the past week.
MODERNA VACCINE 95% EFFECTIVE
The dire accumulation of grim statistics came amid a glimmer of hope with Monday’s announcement by drugmaker Moderna MRNA.O that its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19, based on interim data from a late-stage trial.
Together with Pfizer Inc’s PFE.N vaccine, which also was found to be more than 90% effective, and depending on the outcome of additional safety data and regulatory reviews, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December, with as many as 60 million doses available this year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, said the Moderna vaccine results were impressive but cautioned the United States could still go through a “dark winter” as COVID-19 fatigue sets in and people grow tired of restrictions.
“It’s a very serious situation,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Today” program. “But the fact that help is on the way should spur us even more to double down on some of the public health measures... We can do it.”
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Shepardson and David Lawder in Washington and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Writing by Sharon Bernstein, Maria Caspani and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Aurora Ellis and Rosalba O’Brien