PITTSBURGH — After months of lockdown in which outbreaks of the coronavirus often centered in nursing homes, prisons and meatpacking plants, the nation is entering a new and uncertain phase of the pandemic. New Covid-19 clusters have been found in a Pentecostal church in Oregon, a strip club in Wisconsin and in every imaginable place in between.
In Baton Rouge, La., at least 100 people tested positive for the virus after visiting bars in the Tigerland nightlife district, popular among Louisiana State University students.
At a Christian summer camp near Colorado Springs, at least 11 employees fell ill just before the season’s opening, leading the camp to cancel overnight stays for the first time in 63 years.
And in Las Vegas, just weeks after casinos reopened, a handful of employees from casinos, restaurants and hotels have tested positive, and frightened workers on Monday begged guests to wear masks in a news conference conducted over video.
The newly emerging clusters — which vary in size from a handful of cases to hundreds and have cropped up in large cities as well as small towns — reflect the unpredictable course of the coronavirus. They also underscore risks that experts say are likely to persist as long as states try to reopen economies and Americans venture back into public without a vaccine.
New known virus cases were on the rise in 23 states on Monday as the outlook worsened across much of the nation’s South and West. Hospitalizations for the coronavirus reached their highest levels yet in the pandemic in Arizona and Texas, and Missouri reported its highest single-day case totals over the weekend. Even as much of the Northeast and Midwest continued to see improvement, there were signs of new spread in Ohio, where case numbers have started trending upward after weeks of improvement, and in Pennsylvania, where several counties have had troubling numbers of cases.
“This is exactly what most people would expect when you lift stay-at-home orders and isolation orders,” said Rebecca Christofferson, an infectious-disease expert at Louisiana State University, who said that reopening along with fatigue over social distancing for many Americans were creating new sorts of virus clusters.
“All of those things combined just make it a complex problem — human behavior, contact and virus,” she said. “You put it all in a big pot, and boom!”
It is in some ways a return to the earliest days of the virus in the United States, when the coronavirus was silently brewing, and when occasions like funerals, choir practices and birthday parties became events that led to widespread transmission.
Those kinds of group gatherings were always risks, but they became far less common during a period of months in which much of the country was shut down. The return to public life has brought those opportunities back, as more and more people go shopping, dining, visiting family and friends, and even hugging one another again.
“It really is just all about…