HOUSTON/WASHINGTON • Five US states hit record daily highs for coronavirus cases over the weekend, and Vice-President Mike Pence cancelled planned campaign events in hard-hit areas as the virus surged in the south and west, halting economic reopening plans.
The number of confirmed US cases rose to more than 2.5 million yesterday, a Reuters tally shows.
More than 128,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, the highest known death toll of any country in the world.
Florida last Saturday morning reported 9,585 new infections in the past 24 hours, a record for a second day, while Arizona recorded 3,591 new cases of Covid-19, matching its prior record last Tuesday.
Mr Pence cancelled planned events in Florida and Arizona this week to campaign for President Donald Trump’s re-election out of “an abundance of caution”, campaign officials told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Nevada last Saturday disclosed 1,099 new cases, double its previous record, while South Carolina and Georgia reported 1,604 and 1,990 new infections respectively, also new daily highs.
The surge in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of southern and western states that had reopened their economies earlier and more aggressively, serving as a warning to the potentially illusory nature of any perceived progress in controlling the virus.
For the third consecutive day, new US cases rose by more than 40,000 last Saturday. The United States has now recorded 2.52 million cases since the pandemic began, according to the Reuters tally.
The worsening contagion in some parts of the US has created a split-screen effect, with New York and its neighbouring north-eastern states, which were hit hardest initially, reporting declining cases and forging ahead with their reopening plans.
Ms Kami Kim, director of the division of infectious disease and international medicine at the University of South Florida, said her state’s leaders claimed victory too soon after lockdowns were lifted in early May, while sending conflicting messages on face coverings by not wearing masks themselves.
“It was just complete denial by a huge swathe of the politicians,” she said, predicting that the state might need to shut down again.
“Unfortunately, our community still isn’t taking it very seriously. People aren’t wearing masks.”
Governor Jay Inslee said his state of Washington would pause moving into the next stages of reopening its economy as cases there rise.
In Texas, a state that had championed letting people get back to work, Governor Greg Abbott has now ordered bars to close and required restaurants to limit indoor seating, acknowledging that in hindsight, he had opened bars too soon.
And in Florida, the Miami authorities announced that beaches will be closed over the July 4 holiday weekend, normally one of the busiest times of the year. Some Florida cities also cancelled July 4 fireworks displays.
Despite skyrocketing case numbers, both Mr Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have not bowed to pressure to issue statewide mandates on wearing masks, opting to leave that decision to local municipalities.
Mr Abbott and Mr DeSantis are Republicans, and in the same party as Mr Trump.
Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said he fears that daily cases in the Houston area could more than triple to 4,000 by the middle of next month, making it the main global hot spot by then.
“We need to implement more aggressive social distancing measures now,” said the renowned vaccine scientist.
At a briefing last Friday, Mr DeSantis blamed the spike in infections on young people interacting more in the past few weeks, adding that they faced lower risk of dying than older people.
Lending support to that view, the average age of infected people in Florida has dropped sharply – to 33 from 65 two months ago.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has said young people nationwide, many of them asymptomatic and spreading the virus unknowingly, are now driving a “paradigm shift” in the dynamics of the pandemic.
He warned them to think about the health of others.
“If you get infected you will infect someone else,” he said. “And then ultimately you’ll infect someone who’s vulnerable. The only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together,” Dr Fauci said at a press briefing last Friday.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE