US gears up for Fourth amid virus surge

States that lifted re­stric­tions in May are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the steep­est rise in in­fec­tions

The Irish Times - - World News - SUZANNE LYNCH Wash­ing­ton Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

‘Vi­o­lent pro­test­ers’

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

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­DREW CA­BALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump ride through Key­stone, South Dakota, ahead of the Fourth of July hol­i­day.

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