Several US states hit record infection highs ahead of Independence Day

Medical personnel prepare to test people lined up in vehicles for free Covid-19 tests in Phoenix last month. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: Alabama and several other states reported record increases in coronavirus cases on Friday as Florida’s most populous county imposed a curfew ahead of the Independence Day weekend and Arkansas joined a push towards mandating mask-wearing in public.

North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alaska all saw new daily highs in confirmed cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, while Florida’s caseload came in just below the prior day’s record high.

The recent surge in cases, most pronounced in southern and western states, has alarmed public health officials, who urged caution ahead of a July 4th holiday weekend that in normal times would feature big gatherings of families and friends.

North Carolina reported 951 hospitalisations and 2,099 cases, marking a new record for the first time in three weeks.

“Highest new case count, highest hospitalisations, highest percent positive since end of April. Please be cautious this holiday weekend,” Betsy Tilson, North Carolina state health director, wrote on Twitter about Friday’s figures.

Despite the jump in infections, the daily death rate in the United States has remained relatively flat, a reflection of the growing proportion of positive tests among younger people who tend to be healthier and less prone to severe outcomes.

However, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that the impact on fatalities from the recent surge, which started in mid-June, had yet to be seen. “Deaths lag at least two weeks and can lag even more,” he told “Fox & Friends” on Friday.

His remarks came hours ahead of a trip by President Donald Trump to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota where he is due to deliver a speech to thousands of supporters and view a fireworks display at the landmark, which depicts four US presidents in stone.

The visit has drawn criticism from Native Americans, who say the remote area is sacred to them, as well as health experts who discourage large gatherings.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who like Trump is a Republican, said earlier this week that people would not be social distancing at the event.

Trump, whose handling of the pandemic has come under harsh criticism from Democrats and some Republicans, has repeatedly sought to dismiss the jump in cases as a function of more testing and again this week said he thought the virus would “disappear”.

“There is a rise in Coronavirus cases because our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” Trump wrote on Twitter late on Thursday.

More masks

Coronavirus cases are rising in 37 of the 50 US states including Florida which had 9,488 new cases on Friday, according to the state health department.

Florida’s 10,109 cases on Thursday was a record for the state and more than any European country’s daily peak at the height of the outbreak there.

Evidence the surge is not simply due to expanded testing, the percentage of tests coming back positive in Florida has risen to 16%, up from 4% a month ago, according to a Reuters analysis. The World Health Organization says a rate over 5% is concerning.

Against that backdrop, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez imposed an indefinite nightly curfew starting Friday and halted the reopenings of entertainment venues such as casinos and strip clubs, while urging people to act responsibly.

Earlier this week, Miami-Dade and neighbouring Broward County, the state’s two most populous counties, required residents to wear face coverings in public.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Friday authorised the state’s cities and towns to enact a “model ordinance” requiring the wearing of face coverings if they choose to do so.

The move follows similar but more sweeping mask-wearing requirements by Texas and several other states this week.

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