Confirmed US COVID-19 cases rise

MIAMI (AP) — California, Arizona, Texas and Florida together reported about 36,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as restrictions aimed at combatting the spread of the pandemic took hold in the United States (US) and around the world in an unsettling sign reminiscent of the dark days of April.

The soaring counts of confirmed infections and a mounting death toll led the mayor of Los Angeles to declare that the nation’s second-largest city is on the verge of resorting to a shutdown of all but essential businesses. More school districts made plans to start the fall semester without on-site instruction, and the 2021 Rose Parade in California was cancelled.

Other events went ahead undeterred. Thousands of auto-racing fans gathered at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee for a NASCAR event. Officials allowed 30,000 at the track, and the event marked the largest sporting event since the pandemic began four months ago. Disney World moved forward with the rolling opening of its Florida theme parks.

California, Arizona, Florida and Texas reported over 450 new deaths. Alabama reported a pandemic-high one-day total of 40 deaths, and officials said the state will begin requiring face masks.

In Texas, which again set a record for confirmed new cases, with nearly 10,800, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has increasingly emphasised face coverings as the way to avoid another lockdown.

Richardson Independent School District workers install a plexiglass barrier on the sink in the restroom for students at Bukhair Elementary School in Dallas. PHOTO: AP

Montana Governor Steve Bullock required masks at indoor public spaces and at larger outdoor gatherings in counties where four or more people are known to have COVID-19. The Democrat’s order came as the state reported a record number of new confirmed cases.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine, who has faced criticism from fellow Republicans over business closures, gave a televised address with an emotional appeal to residents to make sacrifices to protect their neighbours. But he stopped short of mandating masks.

Among the sternest measures were in New York, where Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo added to a list totalling 22 states whose visitors will be required to quarantine for two weeks if they visit the tri-state region. Out-of-state travellers arriving in New York airports from those states face a USD2,000 fine and a mandatory quarantine order if they fail to fill out a tracing form.

The broad reach of the virus has brought scrutiny to governors’ decisions. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a first-term Republican governor who has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, became the first US governor to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He plans to quarantine at home.

Stitt, who has resisted a statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself, attended US President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there. Stitt said he is confident he did not contract the virus at the gathering.

Florida surpassed 300,000 confirmed cases, reporting 10,181 new infections as its daily average death rate keeps rising. Major cities have required masks, but Governor Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a statewide order, arguing that it’s best decided and enforced locally.

Still, the Republican governor on Tuesday wore a mask while speaking publicly for the first time — at a roundtable news conference with Miami-Dade County mayors.

“We have broken single-day records several times this week, and there’s nothing about it that says we’re turning the corner or seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t see that in the numbers,” said Chief of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Jackson Memorial Hospital Dr Nicholas Namias. He said diminishing bed capacity is creating problems at the Miami medical centre.

“We’re getting to the point where it’s going to be full. We have gridlock, and we won’t be able to take patients, and they’ll just be stacked in the ERs,” Namias said.

In Washington, a divided approach to the pandemic spilled into public view in extraordinary fashion, with trade adviser Peter Navarro panning Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. Fauci called the criticism “nonsense” and “a bit bizarre”. Trump stepped in to referee, saying “we’re all on the same team”.

Businesses instituted restrictions, too, with Walmart becoming the largest US retailer to require customers to wear face coverings at all of its Sam’s Club and namesake stores. In Las Vegas, some casinos began limiting smoking to keep customers from removing the masks they are required to wear.

Organisers cancelled the 2021 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, because of the pandemic’s impact on long-range planning for the New Year’s tradition, according to the Tournament of Roses Association. But Disney World welcomed visitors to Epcot and Hollywood Studios despite the surge of cases in the state.