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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, on July 9, 2020.Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press

The governor of Oklahoma said on Wednesday he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming one of the highest elected U.S. politicians to test positive for the disease, as coronavirus infections continue to surge nationally.

Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican who attended President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa nearly three weeks ago, had faced a backlash after posting on Twitter a photo of himself and two of his children at a crowded restaurant, even as state health authorities urged social distancing.

“I got tested yesterday for COVID-19, and the results came back positive,” Stitt, 47, said in a video conference call with reporters. “I feel fine, really, I mean you might say I’m asymptomatic or just slightly kind of a little bit achy.”

Stitt is one of a number of elected leaders infected since the novel coronavirus arrived in the United States this year. Others include U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and about a half dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives from both parties.

The number of U.S. cases in the South and West has spiked since state and local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Across the country, new cases are now averaging around 60,000 a day.

Oklahoma reported a record case increase for the second day in a row on Wednesday. Nationally, the total number of cases is nearing 3.5 million, by far the highest number of any country in the world.

To date, more than 136,000 Americans have died from the highly contagious respiratory illness.

Since Trump’s June 20 campaign rally at an indoor arena in Tulsa, attended by several thousand people against the advice of public health officials, coronavirus cases in the surrounding county have risen to over 5,200 – a 219% increase over the last four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Eight staff on Trump’s campaign tested positive around the time of that event.

Stitt said he had worked with contact tracers on when his symptoms developed and they believed he would not have been contagious before Saturday.

MASK-WEARING MANDATE

An influential mortality model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected late on Tuesday that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 would surpass 224,000 by Nov. 1, up 16,000 from a prior forecast.

But it also said the number of lives lost could be reduced by 40,000 if nearly all Americans wore masks in public.

Trump, whose popularity in opinion polls is declining ahead of an election in November, has been reluctant to embrace mask-wearing, and most Republican governors and local officials have followed suit.

Stitt, a first-term governor, encourages Oklahomans to wear face masks but he rarely wears one in public himself and has not issued a statewide mask mandate.

With infections surging for the second day in a row in Alabama, Republican Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday reversed her position and ordered all residents to wear masks, effective from Thursday.

“I always prefer a personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey said at a briefing. “And yet I also know with all my heart that the numbers and the data over the past few weeks are definitely trending in the wrong direction.”

The neighboring state of Florida, which has become an epicenter of the latest surge in cases, on Wednesday reported another 10,000 new infections, putting its total at over 300,000. It also reported 112 new deaths, down from 133 reported on Tuesday.

The resurgence of infections across much of the country has forced difficult choices about how and when shuttered schools should be reopened for the upcoming academic year.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on Wednesday said she would issue an executive order to delay the opening of schools in her state until after the Sept. 7 Labor Day holiday.

The 2021 Tournament of Roses Parade, an annual spectacle of flower-bedecked floats held each New Year’s Day since 1891 in Pasadena, California, has been called off due to the pandemic, its first cancellation in 76 years, organizers said on Wednesday.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot scolded young people on Wednesday for not taking the virus seriously enough.

“Some of you have joked that I’m like the mom who will turn the car around when you’re acting up. No, friends, it’s actually worse. I won’t just turn the car around. I’m going to shut it off. I’m going to kick you out and I’m going to make you walk home,” Lightfoot told a news conference on Wednesday.

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