SACRAMENTO • California has ordered bars in some areas to close, the first major rollback of efforts to reopen the economy in the most populous US state as coronavirus cases nationwide soar to record levels day after day.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s order on Sunday for bars to close in Los Angeles and six other counties followed moves by Texas and Florida to shut all their bars last Friday.
“Covid-19 is still circulating in California, and in some parts of the state, growing stronger,” Mr Newsom said in a statement. “That’s why it is critical we take this step.”
California was the first to enact a statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March and has been slow to reopen. Los Angeles county remains the epicentre of the outbreak in California, reporting an additional 2,542 cases, more than half of the new infections statewide.
“While it’s disappointing to take a step back on our economic recovery journey, it’s critical that we protect the health of our residents and protect the capacity in our health-care system,” Dr Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement.
Public health officials in California and throughout the United States have identified bars as the riskiest non-essential business currently open.
Consuming alcohol reduces inhibitions, which leads to less mask-wearing and social distancing, health officials warn. Patrons in noisy bars often shout, which spreads droplets more widely.
The surge in cases has been most pronounced in southern and western states that did not follow health officials’ recommendations to wait for a steady decline in cases before reopening.
More than 2.5 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US and more than 125,000 have died, the most in the world.
For a third consecutive day on Saturday, the number of confirmed US cases leapt by more than 40,000, one of the world’s largest surges.
In many states, people under 35 accounted for a large percentage of new cases. More tests are also coming back positive, up to 25 per cent in some areas.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned on CNN that “the window is closing” for the country to get the pandemic under control.
Even in states where cases have been declining, bars have been a source of outbreaks.
One bar in East Lansing, Michigan, has been linked to more than 85 cases, and local health officials say that number is likely to rise.
Some beaches in Florida are also closing ahead of the July 4 Independence Day holiday weekend, which would have drawn large crowds.
In Arizona, cases have risen by 267 per cent this month and jumped by a record 3,857 on Sunday, the eighth record-breaking increase this month. Georgia reported a record increase of 2,225 cases on Sunday.
Fifteen states, including California, Florida and Texas, saw record rises in cases last week.
Vice-President Mike Pence last Saturday cancelled events to campaign for Republican President Donald Trump’s re-election in Florida and Arizona because of the outbreak in those states.
On Sunday, Mr Pence travelled to Texas, where he told a news conference that Americans should wear masks.
“We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas,” Mr Pence said. “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people.”
Mr Pence also attended a service at a church where a 100-member choir sang without masks, something health officials have warned can lead to the spread of the virus and Covid-19, the illness it causes.
A video showed Mr Pence – who has defended Mr Trump’s refusal to ask all Americans to wear masks in public – in the audience wearing a face covering.
In March, a church choir in Washington gathered for a rehearsal before the state issued a stay-at-home order. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 87 per cent of the singers were infected. Two died.
Global coronavirus cases exceeded 10 million on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, a major milestone in the pandemic.
The global death toll exceeded half a million in seven months, another grim marker.