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Worst of COVID-19 surge may be yet to come

BRACING FOR PEAK OF VIRUS — Paster Bruce Schafer of Grace Life Church greats worshipers in their cars as they leave the first of two drive-in Easter services in a parking lot in Monroeville, Pa. Many local, small-town officials across the nation said earlier this week that they expect their peak won’t come for another few weeks. -- Associated Press

A week ago, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said this past week would be the “hardest” and “saddest” of most Americans’ lives due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He compared the trials with the anguish of events such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

“Only it’s not going to be localized,” Adams said in an interview on Fox News. “It’s going to be happening all over the country.”

But many local, small-town officials across the nation said earlier this week that they expect their peak won’t come for another few weeks. And until it does, “every week is going to be the worst week yet,” said Diana Irey Vaughan, a county chairperson in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Across the nation, in cities big and small, the novel coronavirus has increasingly wreaked havoc on citizens.

In Kansas, there was a 40 percent increase in COVID-19-related deaths in a single day.

Presque Isle County in northeastern Michigan had avoided a case of COVID-19 until last week, when as of Thursday afternoon they had two.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health reported just over 10,000 cases on April 4, and by April 9, that number had jumped to 18,228. In that same time, the number of COVID-19-related fatalities doubled.

We reached out to local health and government leaders in 10 communities across the nation, and of the seven who responded, most expect these harrowing statistics to continue in the weeks to come.

In Lawrence, Kansas, Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said he expects the next few weeks to be difficult, with the possibility of a peak in mid-to-late April.

“We’ve learned from what is happening in other parts of the country and the world, and this has driven our planning process,” he said, noting that they are working to ensure that the state’s health care system will not be overwhelmed when Douglas County reaches its peak.

But predictions on when COVID-19 will peak depends on one’s models.

Dave Light, mayor of Norwalk, Ohio, said some models predicted the peak in his city to be last week, while other models predicted this week — and others are predicting the week after that. He said it’s hard for anyone to truly know.

The Surgeon General’s prediction that last week would be the hardest and saddest week also likely won’t hold true in Ohio County, West Virginia., where Wheeling-Ohio County Public Health Administrator Howard Gamble said he believes that state’s toughest week is forthcoming.

The Surgeon General “was trying to stress that there’s a positive here,” Gamble said. He believes Adams’ message that we would see the worst week was also an attempt to provide hope that the United States might soon see a light at the end of the tunnel.

For smaller areas, fewer cases, but varied challenges

Hitting the peak isn’t necessarily the turning block for every community.

For lakeside town Alpena, Mich., many businesses rely on the summer season — when tourists surge into the city — to make a majority of their profits for the year.

As COVID-19 continues to run its course, “It’s looking scarier and scarier for a lot of the businesses,” said Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce President Adam Poll. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the tourists and if they are going to make it here.”

Businesses already are hurting in Alpena, he said. They rely on the local population to make it through the off-peak season, and if they also miss the tourist season, it will be that much harder.

The county has not yet had a confirmed case of the virus, which Poll said will only “delay the impact.” They expect to get one soon, though. Presque Isle County, which is just north of the town, saw its first two cases of COVID-19 last week.

For Washington County, Pennsylvania, with a population of more than 200,000, the lack of a health department has made the pandemic even more stressful for the county.

County Chairperson Diana Irey Vaughan, who has been in office for 25 years, said the county relies on the state’s Department of Health, who “has not been forthcoming with information to us.”

Counties that have their own health departments have been provided the number of confirmed cases by municipality, Irey Vaughan said. This has enabled those counties to provide emergency medical personnel with addresses for those who are affected with the virus, so that if an issue arises, they can be reached quickly.

Irey Vaughan said citizens in her county have been “crying out” to know which municipalities house active cases of COVID-19, “so that they can know where the dangers lie.”

She also explained that the closure of one of the city’s largest employers, the Meadowlands Racetrack and Casino, has not only been detrimental economically, but also for the behavioral health of citizens with gambling addictions.

Even so, having a smaller population can also have its benefits. In Fort Dodge, Iowa, Mayor Matt Bemrich holds out hope that his city might not see a spike in cases like other parts of the country have.

Though the coronavirus pays no mind to “where you live or who you are,” Bemrich said Fort Dodge probably hasn’t had as many people traveling through who had recently been in hot spots for the virus, as is the case in larger cities like New York City and Los Angeles. And by the time community spreading began, those in Fort Dodge already had seen the effects of the virus in these larger cities and were prepared to take it seriously.

Bemrich then added that if citizens came home after traveling, they came home with the awareness that they needed to self-isolate.

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