Almost half a million Americans contract COVID-19 in past week as infections surge

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nearly half a million people in the United States have contracted the novel coronavirus in the last seven days, according to a Reuters tally, as cases and hospitalizations set fresh records in hot spots in the Midwest.

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More than 5,600 people died from the virus nationwide in the last week, with hospitalizations shooting up 13%, a Reuters analysis showed.

Illinois, which has emerged as a hot spot in recent weeks, reported over 31,000 new cases in the last seven days, more new infections than any other state except Texas.

To try and contain the surge, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker imposed fresh rounds of restrictions in six of 11 regions.

Indoor dining in bars and restaurants will be suspended by Wednesday and gatherings will be limited to 25 people under a state formula that triggers ‘mitigation’ when the positivity rate tops 8% for at least two days in a row. The affected areas include some Chicago suburbs.

Other states have walked back reopening plans to curb the spread of the virus as cooler weather sets in across most of the nation.

Idaho Governor Brad Little on Monday announced indoor gatherings of more than 50 people would be prohibited, and outdoor gatherings are to be capped at 25% capacity.

Health experts believe the virus is surging because of private social gatherings, colder temperatures driving people inside, and fatigue with COVID-19 precautions.

Beyond the Midwest, the Texas city of El Paso is also facing a surge in cases that is overwhelming local hospitals, with officials setting up an alternate care facility to help relieve medical centers.

“We are seeing all sorts of patients. The narrative historically has been the above-65, those with multiple co-morbidities. But we’re seeing 20-year-olds. We’re seeing 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds,” Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist in El Paso, told Reuters. “There’s that exhaustion, but again, we buckle up and we take care of the patients.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, facing a tough re-election battle on Nov. 3, lashed out again at reports that the coronavirus is surging, and reiterated his false claim that the country is “rounding the turn” in its battle with the virus that has killed more than 225,800 people.

Pennsylvania, a hotly contested ‘battleground’ state in next week’s election, on Tuesday reported a fresh record in new coronavirus cases, according to the state’s health department.

(The story corrects wording in second paragraph to show more than 5,600 people have died from the virus, not were infected)

Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Maria Caspani in New York; additional reporting by Reuters Television in El Paso and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien