California closed down bars, theatres and indoor restaurant dining all over again across most of the state Wednesday, and Arizona’s outbreak grew more severe by nearly every measure, as the surging coronavirus crisis across the South and West sent a shudder through the United States.
The run-up in confirmed cases has been blamed in part on what’s been called “knucklehead behaviour” by Americans not wearing masks or obeying other physical-distancing rules as economies reopened from coast to coast over the past two months.
“The bottom line is the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said.
The shutdown announcement, which came just ahead of what is expected to be a busy Fourth of July weekend that could fuel the spread of the virus, applies to 19 counties encompassing nearly three-quarters of California’s 40 million people, including Los Angeles County.
Confirmed cases in California have increased nearly 50 per cent over the past two weeks, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone up 43 per cent.
With one of the biggest weekends of the summer approaching, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to wear face coverings at the beach, though not in the water.
Meanwhile, a masked Vice-President Mike Pence paid a visit to Arizona, where cases have spiked since stay-at-home orders expired in mid-May. The state reported record single-day highs for new cases (almost 4,900), deaths (88), ER visits (close to 1,300) and the number of people in the hospital (nearly 2,900).
Florida recorded more than 6,500 new cases — down from around 9,000 on some days last week, but still alarming — and a running total of over 3,500 deaths. Counties in South Florida are closing beaches to fend off large July 4 crowds that could spread the virus.
“Too many people were crowding into restaurants late at night, turning these establishments into breeding grounds for this deadly virus,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in forbidding restaurants with seating for more than eight people from serving customers inside from midnight to 6 a.m.
Louisiana saw its biggest daily spike since April, reporting 2,100 new cases in 24 hours. Georgia set a new daily record with nearly 3,000 new cases. Texas did too, with new infections skyrocketing past 8,000 in a single day for the first time.
Marilyn Rauth, a senior citizen in Punta Gorda, said Florida’s reopening was “too much too soon” and blamed Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
“The sad thing is the COVID spread will probably go on for some time, though we could have flattened the curve with responsible leadership,” she said. “Experience now has shown most people won’t social distance at beaches, bars, etc. The governor evidently has no concern for the health of the state’s citizens.”
The soaring numbers across the Sunbelt have raised fears that many other states could see the same phenomenon if they reopen too, and that people from the South and West could spread the virus to other regions.
Some distant states and cities that seemed to have tamed their outbreaks, including Colorado, Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, hit pause or backtracked on some of their reopening plans for bars and restaurants.
Also, New York and New Jersey are asking visitors from 16 states from the Carolinas to California to quarantine themselves for two weeks.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is delaying its resumption of indoor dining at restaurants, and not because of any rise in cases there.
“Even a week ago, honestly, I was hopeful we could. But the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time,” he said.
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has roughly doubled over the past month, hitting 44,800 on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is higher even than the deadliest stretch of the crisis in mid-April through early May.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that the rise across the South and West “puts the entire country at risk” and that new infections could reach 100,000 a day if people don’t start listening to public-health authorities.
The virus in the U.S. is blamed for more than 2.6 million confirmed cases and over 127,000 deaths, the highest toll in the world, by Johns Hopkins’ count. Worldwide, the number of infections is put at more than 10.6 million, with over a half-million deaths.
The real numbers are believed to be significantly higher, in part because of limited testing and mild cases that have gone unrecorded.
In New Jersey, where cases had been declining since late April, Governor Phil Murphy announced a pause on Monday, in part because of people not wearing masks and physical distancing.
“Unfortunately, the national scene, compounded by instances of knucklehead behaviour here at home, are requiring us to hit pause on the restart of indoor dining for the foreseeable future,” he said.
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