Experts worry as US virus restrictions are eased or violated

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — State and local officials around the U.S. are rolling back social-distancing rules again after an abortive effort over the summer, allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to open. Fans are gathering mask-free at football games. President Donald Trump is holding crowded indoor rallies.

While some Americans may see such things as a welcome step closer to normal, public health experts warn the U.S. is setting itself up for failure — again.

“Folks are becoming very cavalier about the pandemic,” said Mark Rupp, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska’s governor ended nearly all of his state’s restrictions on Monday, even with new cases of the coronavirus on the rise.

“I think it is setting us up for further transmission and more people getting ill and, unfortunately, more people dying,” Rupp said.

The virus is blamed for more than 6.5 million confirmed infections and 195,000 deaths in the U.S., by far the highest totals of any country, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

While case numbers have fallen from a peak average of 67,000 new infections per day in late July to about 36,000 now, the numbers remain staggeringly high. Deaths are running at about 750 a day, down from a peak of over 2,200 in late April.

In recent days, Mississippi has allowed restaurants to expand their customer capacity to 75%.

New Jersey reopened gyms and indoor dining at restaurants, though with limited capacity. Michigan’s governor allowed gyms to reopen and organized sports to resume. County commissioners in Pinellas County, Florida, on Thursday are set to discuss whether to repeal their mask ordinance.

Public health experts noted that it is safe to resume certain activities in communities where there are low levels of infection.

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