The Bay Area was the first region in the U.S. to issue a coronavirus shelter-in-place order and now is one of the last to lift it. Meanwhile, some of the nation’s biggest counties have had restaurants and retail stores reopened for more than a month.

As the Bay Area plots its own course, many here are keeping a close eye on the rest of the country: Have reopened areas seen big spikes in coronavirus cases?

A look at recent data reveals that so far, for many counties, reopening sooner hasn’t correlated with a rise in cases, yet. In fact, it’s been all over the map.

One explanation from experts is that it’s still too early to determine if reopening has led to a second wave of cases in many of these areas. The coronavirus incubation period is two to 14 days, plus there is the time involved in people increasingly circulating and spreading the virus, and then getting tested to confirm the diagnosis.

Many of these areas have also increased testing capacity, and put in place safety guidelines that could be helping to prevent the virus’ spread even more than expected, such as recommending that people wear masks in public and maintain 6 feet of distance. People also may simply be choosing to continue staying at home more.

And as counties and states continue reopening businesses at increased capacity and allowing bigger events to resume, the likelihood of new cases might also then increase. It’s too soon to know if Memorial Day weekend activities or the ongoing protests against police brutality in many of these regions have caused an uptick in cases.

We looked at daily new case counts and the seven-day average for some of the biggest U.S. counties that have been reopened for at least a few weeks. In most cases, we pulled data for the week leading up to a county’s reopening, and for three weeks after that date.

This is what we found.

Where cases appear to be rising

Arizona’s Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, shows the most significant surge in cases out of all the areas compared. Arizona’s retail shops and dine-in restaurants have been allowed to reopen since early May, and the state’s shelter-in-place expired May 15.

Leading up to the end of shelter-in-place, the seven-day average was relatively flat. But it started to climb at the end of May, and by the first week of June the case count average was higher than ever before.

Health officials said testing across the state has increased, but not enough to cause the jump seen in recent days. They confirmed that community spread has increased. Since reopening, reports showed packed restaurants and crowds flocking to popular destinations for Memorial Day weekend. On June 6, the state health director recommended hospitals prepare for an increase of coronavirus cases and to halt elective surgeries if ICU hospital beds were at or near capacity.

In Florida, the metro area encompassing Tampa began reopening in early May, with retail and restaurants resuming at 25% capacity. In the middle of the month, gyms were allowed to reopen, and retail and restaurants got the go-ahead to expand to 50% capacity.

All through May, the seven-day average gradually rose, then spiked around June 2. On Tuesday, the area recorded its biggest one-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.

Where cases are flat

Georgia was the first state to begin lifting coronavirus restrictions. Salons and gyms reopened on April 24, restaurants followed a few days later, and malls reopened at the beginning of May. But, despite the early reopening, the area around Atlanta hasn’t yet seen a significant uptick in cases. The numbers out of this region fluctuate quite a bit, with the highest daily count of 128 new cases logged on May 27.

Questions have been raised about the accuracy of Georgia’s coronavirus data. Until recently, the state was combining diagnostic tests and antibody tests, which would pad the overall numbers. The state also was criticized for sloppy reporting, including sharing a chart in early May that included two Sundays in one week, and listed May 2 before April 26.

In Nevada’s Clark County, home to Las Vegas, restaurants and retail were allowed to reopen in early May at 50% capacity, and the shelter-in-place order was lifted May 15. But the city of Las Vegas didn’t have its official reopening until early June, when visitors flooded the Strip and its many casinos, restaurants and bars. Guests are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in the casinos. A recent video shows hundreds of maskless guests at a busy casino.

Texas allowed restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and malls to open at 25% capacity on May 1, and a month later, Gov. Greg Abbott upped that to 50% capacity, though many of the state’s urban centers have kept some restrictions in place for longer.

This week, Texas officials reported a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations. Meanwhile, testing capacity has declined with recent weeks producing about 10,000 fewer tests per day than the statewide goal.

In the area surrounding Houston, the trend in cases was flat for the three weeks after restaurants reopened there. However, officials said that in the past two weeks coronavirus cases have increased despite most shelter-in-place restrictions remaining firm.

Where cases appear to be declining

Milwaukee County in Wisconsin lifted its shelter-in-place order mid-May, though bars and restaurants were only allowed to reopen in June. It may be too early to tell the effect, but since the end of May, the seven-day average has been on a downward trend. On Tuesday, officials said that face coverings would be required at all county facilities including the airport, outdoor park spaces and on transit.

In Denver, cases have also generally decreased since the shelter-in-place order expired at the end of April, though not all activities or services were allowed to resume at that time. In early May, Denver instituted a policy requiring everyone over the age of 3 to wear a face covering in most public areas and businesses. Those caught violating the mandate could receive a fine of $999.

The stay-at-home order in San Antonio’s Bexar County in Texas was lifted on June 4 but many businesses have been allowed to open at 25% capacity for more than a month. The trend line for the area appears to be declining; however, this week, officials reported a spike over the weekend with two of the highest reported daily increases since the start of the outbreak.

What about the Bay Area?

Coronavirus cases have seen a recent surge in the Bay Area, particularly in Alameda County, though the overall numbers are still far below what epicenters like New York and New Orleans saw in the early days of the pandemic.

Since shelter-in-place restrictions began loosening in mid May, the region has seen more than 200 new cases nearly every day — levels comparable to late March. This comes after several weeks of declining numbers. Some of the uptick has been expected as testing increases, and public health officials say health care systems here are better positioned now to handle a potential second wave in cases.

You can check the latest data on Bay Area counties on The Chronicle’s Coronavirus Map and see charts showing the trend in cases for each county since reopening on our Reopening page.

Todd Trumbull designed the graphics in this article.

Kellie Hwang and Mike Massa are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: kellie.hwang@sfchronicle.com, mmassa@sfchronicle.com



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