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Experts are concerned as US virus restrictions are eased or violated

PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) – Government and local officials around the United States are rolling back social distancing rules again after a disruptive effort over the summer, allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to open. Fans gather mask-free for football matches. President Donald Trump holds crowded indoor gatherings.

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

“People are getting very cavalier about the pandemic,”

; said Mark Rupp, professor and head of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska’s governor ended almost all of his state’s restrictions on Monday, even with new cases of coronavirus rising.

“I think it enables us to further transmission and more people get sick and unfortunately more people die,” Rupp said.

The virus is blamed for more than 6.5 million confirmed infections and 195,000 deaths in the United States, by far the highest total in any country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

While the number of cases has dropped from a peak average of 67,000 new infections a day at the end of July to around 36,000 now, the number is astonishingly high. Deaths run around 750 a day, down from a peak of over 2,200 at the end of April.

In recent days, Mississippi has allowed restaurants to expand their customer capacity to 75%. New Jersey reopened gyms and indoor dining at restaurants, albeit with limited capacity. Michigan’s governor allowed the gym to reopen and organized sports to resume. County commissioners in Pinellas County, Florida, are ready Thursday to discuss whether to lift their mask ordinance.

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

The nation’s top infectious expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, appeared via video at Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s virus briefing Tuesday, praising the state’s response and its move to reopen safely. He chalked it up to Vermont’s emphasis on wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and taking other simple precautions.

But elsewhere, experts said, the number of cases is too high to resume higher-risk activities, such as going to bars, gyms, theaters and stadiums, attending close contact or eating inside a restaurant.

In most communities in Florida, bars were allowed to reopen with 50 percent capacity on Monday while some precautions were kept in place. But Florida’s three largest counties – Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – keep their bars closed due to big cases.

Even in places where beverage companies have gotten OK to reopen, some owners and customers are hesitant.

At The Leon Pub, a smoky bar a mile up the road from the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Monday night was sparse, as it has been for much of the long, oppressive summer.

“It’s been crickets and tumbleweeds,” said bartender Lauren Bryant.

Among the few there were Allie Preston and her husband. “We have been cooped up for a while. It was nice to have normalcy, ”she said.

Florida bars were closed on St. Patrick’s Day in March, was allowed to reopen in June and then ordered closed again about two weeks later as virus cases rose. Leon Pub was allowed to reopen in July because it had a restaurant license.

Jim Smith. owner of Poor Paul’s Pourhouse in Tallahassee, intends to keep his place closed until the eruption is over.

“I miss going to work every day. I miss seeing the customers and the employees, ”he said. “We have to get this thing under control.”

It is not only officials who waive restrictions. In Milwaukee, the Roman Catholic archbishop said he would no longer excuse people from personal worship unless they were sick or caring for a sick person. Meanwhile, cases in Wisconsin are on the rise.

Some local officials are hitting hard as they watch cases climb.

In Wichita, Kansas, health officials made bar bans and masks wearing mandatory. In Framingham, Massachusetts, officials said they have begun issuing $ 500 fines to property owners who violate the rules of gatherings and masking.

Public health experts said they are concerned they see a pattern: A drop in cases is causing officials and ordinary Americans to relax to be safe, and infections and deaths are making a comeback.

“Please, you’ve done so well, do not let your guard down,” Fauci said during a call news conference during the video call with Vermont’s governor. “Because if we do, we’ll see hikes that will bring us back to where we were months ago.”


Calvan reported from Tallahassee, Florida, Ring reported from Stowe, Vermont. Associated Press journalists from across the United States contributed to this report.

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