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California encouraged by trends even as it passes 600,000 coronavirus cases, most in U.S.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California became the first U.S. state to surpass 600,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday and the Midwest saw several record one-day rises as some states struggled to contain the pandemic even as a few welcomed students back to school campuses.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a face mask crosses an empty Grand Ave in downtown during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

California went over 603,000 novel coronavirus cases on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, although Governor Gavin Newsom said he was encouraged to see that hospitalizations have declined 20% over the past two weeks and admissions to ICU wards were down 14% in the same period.

“The number that really matters to us is that positivity rate,” he said when asked about the 600,000 case-milestone at a news conference on Friday. The positivity rate - the number of confirmed infections as a percentage of tests done - has declined from 7% to 6% statewide over the past 14 days, Newsom said.

“I’m not going to back off on more tests because I fear (more cases),” Newsom said.

More testing may be one reason the U.S. Midwest saw some record one-day increases in cases on Friday, including Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, according to the Reuters tally.

At least 5,271,000 people have contracted the coronavirus in the United States since late January, killing at least 167,278, both figures the most in the world, according to the tally.

HEALTHCARE INEQUITIES

Coronavirus hotspots in the United States had disproportionately high numbers of cases among communities of color, according to an analysis on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report adds to a growing body of evidence that long-standing health and social inequities have resulted in increased risk for infection and death from COVID-19 among communities of color, the CDC said.

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One of those hotspots is California’s Coachella Valley, home to many Hispanic migrant farmers and whose surrounding Riverside County has recorded the state’s second highest number of infections.

For the farmworkers, no work means no food but they are also frightened of spreading the virus back to families often living in multi-generational homes.

So their local congressman, Raul Ruiz, partnered with Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine to bring pop-up testing sites to the fields.

Jose Luis Palomares said it was his second time being tested.

“For our own safety, we have a family and children ... That is why ... I’m getting tested this second time to make sure I am in good health,” said Palomares, who was ordered to take the COVID-19 test and return to work in the fields if his result came back negative.

SCHOOLS REOPENINGS FALTER

Some school districts in the United States have reopened for the fall semester, offering a preview of the difficulties ahead to others who will follow suit in the days and weeks ahead.

In Georgia’s Cherokee County, two high schools had to close this week after reopening. The number of students and staffers under quarantine for COVID-19 exposure in the school district has doubled since last week, officials reported on the district website on Friday.

More than 1,100 students and employees were ordered quarantined as of Friday, as the second week of the new school year ends in the county north of Atlanta.

Like many school districts across the county, Cherokee County with more than 40,000 students, is offering a combination of online and in-person learning.

Cherokee County schools was featured in the national media last week after students posted images on social media, showing students massed together in hallways, many of them not wearing masks.

Reporting by Bill Tarrant; additional reporting by Rich McKay, Norma Galeana and Diane Craft; editing by Grant McCool

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