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Surging COVID-19 Cases Put Retail’s Reopening at Risk

Surging coronavirus cases are threatening retail’s grand reopening.

Effective Thursday, Apple has shut down seven previously reopened stores in the Houston area after reported COVID-19 cases in Texas continue to rise at alarming rates. The move comes after the phone maker closed down 11 stores in the hard-hit states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Arizona over the past week after opening around 30 stores in May, according to a statement obtained by NPR.

In a statement released in May, Apple said it would look to “local cases, near and long‑term trends, and guidance from national and local health officials” when determining which stores would reopen.

According to Johns Hopkins University, new cases of coronavirus in Florida reached an all-time high on June 20 at 3,788 per day using a three-day moving average—up from just 674 on June 1. Arizona also broke its all-time record for new cases reported per day on June 20, recording 3,063 infections compared to 668 on June 1.

North Carolina has seen intense fluctuations in recent weeks, reaching a peak of 1,560 cases per day on June 13, then dropping to 1,074 by June 20. South Carolina started June with just 340 new cases reported per day and is now up to 1,042, just shy of the all-time high of 1,067 recorded on June 19.

By Saturday, two Apple stores were re-closed in Florida, two in North Carolina, one in South Carolina and six in Arizona. Federal guidelines suggest states wait to reopen until they see a downward trajectory in new cases over a two-week period.

Of the states with newly closed Apple stores, only North Carolina may be eligible for reopening in the short term under these recommendations. However, Arizona has the worst trajectory in the nation while Florida and South Carolina are not far behind.

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Apple might not be alone in reversing some of its store reopenings. Retailers from Dick’s Sporting Goods to Burlington have considerable brick-and-mortar footprints in the 12 states where coronavirus cases are spiraling upwards, according to data from investment firm Instinet that was reviewed by CNBC. Florida, Texas, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, California, Tennessee and Oklahoma all reported record high case counts as of Friday, according to Instinet’s research.

Off-pricer Ross has 68 percent of its stores in those states, while Burlington has 42 percent, TJX has 38 percent and Dick’s has 33 percent, per Instinet data.

And in a “Squawk on the Street” interview Wednesday, Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh warned the denim giant is monitoring coronavirus trends “every single day in a couple of states” and “may have to close more stores,” CNBC reported.

Meanwhile, Germany’s largest state has returned to lockdown as the region grapples with a worrying trend in coronavirus infections. Home to more than 360,000 people, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Gütersloh district is again under quarantine after more than 1,700 people at a meat-processing plant there tested positive for COVID-19, The Guardian reported Wednesday.