US gears up for Fourth amid virus surge
States that lifted restrictions in May are experiencing the steepest rise in infections
Millions of Americans were preparing to celebrate Independence Day today as coronavirus cases in the United States continued to surge to record levels.
More than 55,000 new cases were reported on Thursday alone – a new daily record – with more than 30 states reporting a rise in cases over the past week.
States in the south and west of the country, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, continued to see the biggest jump in infection rates. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issued an order mandating the wearing of face masks in counties with 20 or more cases of Covid-19.
It marked a remarkable turnaround for the Republican governor who previously barred local governments from penalising those who did not wear masks in public.
Other states that were slow to impose social distancing measures and that lifted restrictions in May were among those experiencing the steepest rise in infections.
Florida reported another 9,488 cases yesterday, after 10,000-plus reported new infections on Thursday. A further 67 deaths were also reported.
Welcoming vice-president Mike Pence to the state on Thursday, governor Ron DeSantis said that Florida’s death rate was still much lower than in other states, pointing out that younger people were now contracting the virus.
Mr Pence also said that Florida – which has a high proportion of residents aged over 65 – was in “a much better place” to respond to the rise in cases than in the earlier phase of the pandemic because of an increase in testing provision and availability of personal protective equipment.
While the rise in Covid-19 cases in the US in part reflects an increase in testing, there has also been a jump in the percentage of tests coming back positive and a sharp rise in hospitalisation rates.
Earlier this week, leading immunologist Dr Anthony Fauci said he was particularly concerned about the increase in hospitalisations. “I think it’s pretty obvious we are not going in the right direction,” he said.
In Texas, hospitals in the Houston region were reaching capacity as intensive care units were struggling to deal with the surge in Covid-19 patients. Similar reports were emerging in the worst-affected states, such as Arizona.
But as the US headed into a bank holiday weekend, trouble spots emerged in other regions. Alabama reported 1,750 new cases yesterday – a daily high – while Nevada also saw a rise in infection rates.
US president Donald Trump, who spent much yesterday golfing at his club in Virginia, was due to leave for South Dakota yesterday evening to attend an Independence Day fireworks display – the first time the event has taken place since 2010 because of wildfire risks.
Earlier this week, South Dakota’s Republican governor Krisi Noem sparked controversy by declaring that there would be no social distancing at the event at Mount Rushmore, as she encouraged people to come and “celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country”.
Mount Rushmore, famous for its carved etchings of four American presidents in South Dakota’s Black Hills, is itself a contested site, located on land originally inhabited by native Americans.
Mr Trump, who spent much of the week tweeting about “anarchists” vandalising America’s statues and monuments in the wake of protests against the killing of African-American man George Floyd, was expected to raise the issue of national monuments during his speech.
Hours before the event, the acting director of homeland security, Chad Wolf, issued a statement committing to “defend our national treasures from rioters”, criticising the “mobs of violent protesters who recently debased statues of our first president and founding father”.
Several statues have been removed in the wake of the George Floyd protests that gripped America last month. In Richmond, a statue of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson was removed on Thursday night from its prominent position on Monument Avenue, a tree-lined street in Virginia’s capital.
Statues commemorating heroes of the southern side in the civil war have been the subject of renewed controversy since the death of Mr Floyd, given that the Confederate southern army supported slavery.
‘‘ More than 55,000 new cases were reported on Thursday alone – a new daily record
Supporters of Donald Trump ride through Keystone, South Dakota, ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.