HOUSTON (Reuters) – Florida and four other states posted daily highs for COVID-19 cases on Saturday, highlighting the worsening of the spread of the coronavirus in parts of the southern and western United States, prompting some officials to reverse their plans to reopen.
The number of confirmed cases of the virus in the United States rose to more than 2.5 million on Saturday, according to a Reuters count. More than 125,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the highest known death toll in the world.
Florida reported 9,585 new infections in the last 24 hours on Saturday morning, a record for a second day, while Arizona reported 3,591 new cases of COVID-19, which match its previous record on Tuesday.
Nevada revealed 1,099 cases, double its previous record, while South Carolina and Georgia reported 1,604 and 1,990 new infections, respectively, which also set new daily highs.
The increase in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of southern and western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively, serving as a warning to the potentially illusory nature of any perceived progress in virus control.
On Friday, when the United States recorded its largest daily increase in cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, said the government’s current strategy to find and isolate infected people “was not working,” in partly due to significant asymptomatic spread. .
Worsening contagion in some parts of the United States has created a split-screen effect, with New York and its northeastern neighboring states, which were most affected initially, reporting declining cases and moving forward with reopening plans.
Kami Kim, director of the University of South Florida Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine, said her state’s leaders claimed victory too soon after the blockades were lifted in early May, while issuing conflicting messages. on facial covers by not wearing masks. .
“It was a complete denial of a large swath of politicians,” he said, predicting that the state may need to close again. “Unfortunately, our community still doesn’t take it very seriously. People don’t wear masks. ”
In a reversal of his first moves to relax the restrictions, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed across the state on Friday and demanded that restaurants limit seating indoors, acknowledging that, in retrospect, he had opened bars too soon.
Esmeralda Moya, mayor of Galena Park, Texas, a community of 10,000 people east of Houston, instituted a nightly curfew that began Saturday night at 10 pm (0300 GMT). Moya said he was acting after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo raised a health warning system for the county to its highest possible threat level on Friday, a sign that people should take refuge in their homes. .
Florida, another state that reopened its economy relatively quickly, told bar owners on Friday to stop serving alcohol on its premises.
However, despite the numbers of cases that skyrocketed, both Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have not bowed to pressure to issue state mandates to wear masks, opting to leave that decision to local municipalities. Both Abbott and DeSantis are Republicans, the same party as President Donald Trump.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, Houston, said he fears that daily cases in the Houston area could triple to more than 4,000 in mid-July, becoming the main hotspot. worldwide by then.
“We need to implement more aggressive social distancing measures now,” said the renowned vaccine scientist.
In a briefing on Friday, DeSantis attributed the increase in infections to young people who interacted more in recent weeks, adding that they faced a lower risk of dying than older people. Lending support to that view, Florida reported an additional 24 deaths Saturday, peaking in April when the elderly accounted for a higher proportion of cases.
But DeSantis also recognized that these young people, even if they are not hospitalized, could transmit the virus to the elderly or people with conditions such as diabetes that make them susceptible to severe results with COVID-19.
Earlier this week, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on travelers from states with high infection rates like Florida, where about 13 percent of those tested on Friday tested positive.
In a revelation intended to highlight that risk, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a press release on Saturday saying he had ordered health officials to investigate an outbreak related to a high school graduation ceremony in Chappaqua. , New York.
One of the ceremony attendees had recently traveled to Florida and subsequently tested positive, Cuomo said in the statement. Since then, four other people at the ceremony have also tested positive and isolated themselves, he said.
Report by Gary McWilliams in Houston; Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; and Sinead Carew in Maplewood, NJ; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft, and Jonathan Oatis