11 States Where Locking Down Again Is Absolutely Necessary

These states need to revive stay-at-home orders, Harvard researchers warn.

With new coronavirus cases surging in many states across the country, several areas are hitting "pause" on their plans to reopen. But alarming new data from a COVID Risk Level Map created by top researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) shows just how high these case counts have climbed—suggesting that pausing our reopenings may not be enough.

The map gives each state one of four color codes to indicate their level of risk—green (on track for containment), yellow (community spread), orange (accelerated spread), and red (tipping point). According to the HGHI map's key, states with a red code risk level are those with at least 25 newly confirmed cases a day per 100,000 residents. As HGHI researchers explain, "once a community reaches the red risk level, stay-at-home orders become necessary again."

Unfortunately, there are currently 11 states that meet this grim criteria. Read on to find out which viral epicenters are heading for a full-on lockdown. And for more on the states hit hardest by coronavirus, see These States Are In the White House "Red Zone," Says Leaked Document.


tampa florida skyline

Florida tops the list with 55 new cases per 100,000 residents—the highest per capita new case count in the entire country, according to HGHI data. With a total of over 350,000 cases and over 4,950 deaths to date, the Sunshine State is looking particularly bleak these days.

Earlier this week, Florida broke its own single-day case record with well over 13,000 new cases in one day. Though The New York Times reports that numbers have waned slightly since then, and certain counties have already rolled back their reopening efforts, the state is likely heading for a larger scale lockdown in the future.


french quarter in louisiana, iconic state photos

Despite early success in containing the virus, Louisiana has taken a turn for the worse. According to the HGHI map, Louisiana has 44 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, and Newsweek reports a total death count of 3,375.

This week, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a mask mandate, shuttered all bars, and even called for three days of fasting and prayer in response to the state's current emergency. These are the first steps in walking back reopenings and calling attention to the crisis, but residents can expect more stringent restrictions if the case counts continue to climb. And for more on states with soaring rates, see More Than Half of States With Rising COVID Deaths Have This in Common.


tucson arizona skyline

On par with Louisiana, Arizona also has 42 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. According to a New York Times database, there have been at least 143,643 cases of coronavirus in Arizona, and as of Sunday afternoon, at least 2,763 people have died.

In a recent press briefing held on Jul. 16, Gov. Doug Ducey noted that positive test rates are trending downward this week for the first time in several weeks—"the direct effect of decisions Arizonans have made over the past week." Referring to those visible improvements resulting from increased restrictions, he urged his constituency, "we can see more of this if we do more of that."

South Carolina

Scenic View of the St. Michaels Church from Broad St. in Charleston, SC

South Carolina has unexpectedly become an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with 37 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. With nearly 70,000 total cases and 1,155 deaths to date, they're surpassed by only three states in the severity of their current surge.

Perhaps most shockingly, their case numbers have gone up a staggering 999 percent since efforts to reopen their economy. COVID Act Now has classified the state as in "critical" risk of hospital overload, based on their ICU occupancy currently being at 81 percent capacity. And for more on states facing ICU overload, see This State Has Seen Record COVID-19 Hospitalizations for 12 Days Straight.


birmingham alabama

Alabama is currently seeing 36 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, according to the HGHI map data. During a press briefing on June 30, Gov. Kay Ivey added no new restrictions to the state's coronavirus strategy, despite a month-long rise in case counts.

COVID Act Now notes that "on average, each person in Alabama with COVID is infecting 1.20 other people. As such, the total number of active cases in Alabama is growing at an unsustainable rate. If this trend continues, the hospital system may become overloaded." Additionally, their efforts to contact trace are dismally ineffective, with just two percent of positive cases effectively traced.


dallas texas skyline

According to the HGHI data, Texas has seen 35 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. Because the state is home to over 29 million residents, this means the rate of infection is skyrocketing.

Adding to the difficulty of containing the virus in such a large state, The Texas Tribune reports that the hotspots have been "moving targets" that are currently the worst in the southernmost counties. Four out of five residents are living in a "Red Zone," areas with rapid surge rates, and as of Friday, only three ICU beds were available in one 12-county region that serves more than 630,000 people. And for more on what it would take to turn things around in Texas, check out This Is the "Only Way" To Avoid Another Lockdown, Texas Governor Warns.


Las Vegas sign on the strip

If you were thinking of planning a trip to Las Vegas anytime soon, you should go ahead and cancel it. Nevada is currently seeing 34 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, and according to The Daily Beast, their hospital system is "reaching the breaking point."

Just four weeks after reopening casinos, Gov. Steve Sisolak began rolling back those plans by introducing a new mask mandate and closing bars in seven counties including Clark County, home to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, this hasn't deterred tourists from visiting Sin City, which accounts for over 29,000 of the state's nearly 36,000 total cases.


atlanta georgia skyline

The Peach State has seen 30 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, according to HGHI data—a sharp uptick brought on by the state's late-April reopening. With over 3,000 people testing positive each day and a total of 3,100 reported deaths in the state, Georgia continues to set new daily records for highest single-day case counts.

On top of this, the state is currently experiencing a major ideological split regarding precautions like masks and pausing the state's reopening. Politico reported a "legal showdown" between Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the mayor's recent mask mandate. And for more on how states have responded to mask mandates, check out These Were the First States to Mandate Masks. Here's How They're Doing.


St. Louis, Missouri, USA downtown cityscape on the Mississippi River at twilight.

Having contained the coronavirus outbreak relatively well through mid-June, Mississippi took a turn for the worse as the state reopened businesses. It now sees an average of 29 new cases per day per 100,000 residents according to HGHI data.

The Mississippi Department of Health reports that in response to recent surges, 13 counties have been ordered to follow newly enhanced restrictions, including a mask mandate, required social distancing in business settings, COVID screenings at the beginnings of work shifts, and limits on social gatherings. Further lockdown measures are likely in the state's future.


downtown boise idaho

With 30 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, Idaho broke its single-day case count record earlier this week, with 691 cases in one day. Though the numbers pale in comparison to more densely-populated states, this indicates a surprisingly high rate of cases per capita. The majority of those cases are currently based in Ada County, home to the state's capital, Boise. And for more on states with rising case counts, check out 5 States "On the Brink" of Serious COVID Situations, Harvard Doctor Says.


Memphis Tennessee American Cities Vacation Destinations

In April, Tennessee rolled out its reopening plan, and case counts have trended upward ever since. The state is currently seeing an average of 28 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, bringing its total case count to over 75,000 according to The New York Times.

In response, Gov. Bill Lee recently extended the state of emergency declaration and various containment efforts through Aug. 29. On Jul. 3, Lee authorized an executive order giving mayors from all 95 counties the right to issue face mask mandates. This could be the first of many more stringent restrictions to come.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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