NEW YORK (WABC) -- A surge of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin and the Dakotas is forcing a scramble for hospital beds and raising political tensions, as the Upper Midwest and Plains emerge as one of the nation's most troubling hot spots. The three states now lead all others in new cases per capita, after months in which many residents and politicians shunned mask requirements while downplaying the risks of the disease.
It is increasingly apparent that those choices have come with costs.
"It's an emotional roller coaster," said Melissa Resch, a nurse at Wisconsin's Aspirus Wausau Hospital, which is working to add beds and reassign staff to keep up with a rising caseload of virus patients, many gravely ill.
"Just yesterday I had a patient say, 'It's OK, you guys took good care of me, but it's OK to let me go,'" Resch said. "I've cried with the respiratory unit, I've cried with managers. I cry at home. I've seen nurses crying openly in the hallway."
In North Dakota, which does not require residents to wear masks and whose 770 new cases per 100,000 residents are the highest in the country, 24 more virus deaths were reported Wednesday, triple the state's previous single-day record.
"The reported number of deaths today is heartbreaking," said state Health Department spokeswoman Nicole Peske said. "Unfortunately, the deaths and the increase in cases in long-term care are a direct reflection of what's happening in the community."
The efforts to combat the quickening spread of the virus in the Midwest and Plains states are starting to recall the scenes that have played out in other parts of the county over the past several months.
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NYPD sees uptick of suspected COVID-19 cases in October
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea asked officers to wear face coverings and take other precautions in a videotaped message to the department that followed an unusually large number of sickouts in the last week. Thirty-six NYPD members called out sick with suspected coronavirus in the first six days of October, Shea said in a video sent to officers Wednesday.
No sitting on Santa's lap this year due to COVID-19
It's not even Halloween yet, but some malls are already preparing for pandemic-induced changes to visiting Santa during the holidays this year.
Brookfield Properties, which owns 135 malls across the country, made the call to make Santa's lap off limits at malls this season.
Brooklyn Diocese, Jewish groups file lawsuits against New York's COVID restrictions
Several religious groups have filed lawsuits against New York for violations of religious freedom. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn on Thursday, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state of New York, on the basis of violating their First Amendment right, the free exercise of religion.
The lawsuit is in response to the New York State executive order issued this week that reduces capacity at Catholic Churches throughout Brooklyn and Queens, locations that have seen in uptick in COVID clusters.
NJ sees increase in COVID-19 cases
The number of New Jerseyans battling COVID-19 continues to rise at a "sobering" rate. The state recorded 1,301 positive test results. The last time there were that many positive cases in one day was back on May 29th when it had 1,394.
NY state reaches testing record
Governor Andrew Cuomo said 145,000 COVID-19 tests were completed in the New York state, which is a new record. "We're testing two universes," he said. "The normal statewide testing that we've been doing, and then the testing in the hot spot zip codes."
The positivity rate in the hot spots is at 5.8%, while the overall state positivity rate is 1.01%. Cuomo said 6% of the population has been tested in the state.
Know your NYC COVID Zone
You can find your COVID zone at NYC.gov/covidzone.
Red Zone protest and attack
In one of the red zones in Brooklyn, some in the largely Orthodox Jewish community are fighting back, even attacking the messenger. In Borough Park overnight Wednesday into Thursday, a mob attacked a journalist. Jacob Kornbluh of the Jewish Insider was roughed up. He was able to walk away and file a police report.
New app CommonPass logs COVID test results for air travel
The developers of a new app are hoping to make international travel safer during the pandemic. The app is called CommonPass, and it logs a person's lab results to show they are COVID-free when they arrive at the airport. United and Cathay Pacific airways have already signed on. Right now, it is being tested in New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Restrictions begin Thursday in NYC cluster zones
Mayor de Blasio said restrictions including shutting down some nonessential businesses will begin on Thursday in areas identified as "red zones" with COVID-19 outbreaks. Those restrictions will remain in effect for 14 days when the state will then reevaluate. Fines for mass gatherings in violation of state rules will be up to $15,000, a day. Fines for not wearing face coverings and not maintaining social distancing can be as high as $1,000 a day.
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