Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)
Masks spark political, legal battles in US as virus cases soar
WASHINGTON, July 18 ( AFP) - The United States' COVID-19 virus case load is soaring at an explosive rate, even as leaders of some of the worst-hit states resist mandatory mask measures to stem the spread.
Health authorities reported more than 77,600 new cases on Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University database.
The number of patients hospitalised for the virus is at its highest level since April 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicenter, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday.
Coronavirus is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the country including Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi. But New York, the original US epicenter where more than 32,000 virus patients have died, moved to further ease its restrictions after bringing its outbreak under control.
President Donald Trump's ratings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said the decline is explained because the president has stopped giving daily briefings on the virus. “The president's numbers were much higher when he was out there briefing everybody on a day-by-day basis about the coronavirus,” she said, adding: “I think the president should be doing that.” The task force briefings featuring Trump were halted in late April amid mounting criticism over his exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the public health response and his penchant for pushing bogus treatments.
“We've really got to regroup, call a time-out,” Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease specialist, said. “Not necessarily lock down again, but say, 'We've got to do this in a more measured way,'” he added.
States enacted lockdowns in patchwork fashion, and several skipped important epidemiological checkpoints before easing stay-at-home orders, said Fauci.
Some mayors have imposed mandatory mask orders. But in Georgia, the state's Republican governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta's mayor for issuing a face covering directive.
Many sheriffs -- who are often elected officials -- in California, North Carolina and elsewhere have said they won't enforce mask regulations in their counties.
“Do not be a sheep,” a sheriff in Washington state said in late June.