California on Sunday ordered some bars to close, the first major rollback of efforts to reopen the economy in the most populous U.S. state as cases nationwide soar to record levels day after day.
Governor Gavin Newsom's order for bars to close in Los Angeles and six other counties followed moves by Texas and Florida to shut all their bars on Friday. Public health officials in California and throughout the nation have identified bars as the most risky non-essential businesses currently open, the state said.
Consuming alcohol reduces inhibitions that leads to less compliance with wearing masks and keeping apart, health officials warn. Bars are also generally noisy, requiring patrons to shout, which spreads droplets more widely.
The surge in COVID-19 cases has been most pronounced in several Southern and Western states that did not follow health officials' recommendations to wait for a steady decline in cases before reopening their economies.
For a third consecutive day on Saturday, the number of confirmed U.S. cases leapt by more than 40,000, one of the largest surges in the world. In many of these states, people under 35 have accounted for a large percentage of new cases. More tests are also coming back positive, up to 25% in some areas.
Even in states where cases have been declining for weeks, bars have been a source of outbreaks. One bar in East Lansing, Michigan has been linked to more than 85 cases, according to local health officials who say that number is likely to rise.
In addition to bars, Texas shuttered tubing and rafting business on Friday to try to avoid crowds like those seen on Saturday in Arizona along the Salt River east of Phoenix.
As temperatures rose to above 100 Fahrenheit, dozens of people climbed into inflatable inner tubes with coolers and took to the water to escape the heat. Very few wore masks.
Some beaches in Florida are also closing ahead of next weekend's Fourth of July holiday, which would have drawn large crowds.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said interactions among young people are driving the surge in his state. “Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are," Mr. DeSantis said.
In Arizona, cases have risen by 267% so far in June and jumped by a record 3,857 cases on Sunday, the eighth record-breaking increase this month. Georgia reported a record increase of 2,225 cases on Sunday. Fifteen states, including California, Florida, and Texas, saw record rises in cases last week.
WEAR A MASK
Just a day after he sounded a note of optimism about the U.S. response to the pandemic and said the country was in "a much better place," Vice President Mike Pence canceled events to campaign for Republican President Donald Trump's re-election in Florida and Arizona due to the outbreak, campaign officials said on Saturday.
On Sunday, Mr. Pence traveled to Texas and attended a service at the First Baptist Church of Dallas where a 100-member choir sang without masks. Mr. Pence did wear a face covering while sitting in the audience, according to a video.
In early March, a church choir in Washington state gathered for a rehearsal before the state issued a stay-at-home order. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 87% of the singers developed COVID-19. Two members of the choir died.
Mr. Pence urged Texans to follow local laws requiring masks and said towns and counties in about half the state are requiring face coverings in public. Mr. Pence has defended Mr. Trump's refusal to directly ask all Americans to wear masks.
On Tuesday, Mr. Pence was supposed to address a Trump-Pence campaign “Faith in America” event in Tuscon, Arizona, before meeting Gov. Doug Ducey in Yuma. The campaign event has been postponed, reported the Associated Press.
In Florida on Thursday, Mr. Pence was to embark on a bus tour, including an appearance in Lake Wales at an event organized by the pro-Trump group America First Policies billed as the “Great American Comeback tour.” The group announced that “out of an abundance of caution at this time, we are postponing the Great American Comeback tour stop in Florida. We look forward to rescheduling soon.”
The Sarasota County Republican Party confirmed in a note to supporters that Mr. Pence’s campaign event along the Gulf Coast of the state was also postponed. He was still set to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee put a hold on plans to move counties to the fourth phase of his reopening plan as cases continue to increase. But in Hawaii, the city of Honolulu announced that campgrounds will reopen for the first time in three months with limited permits to ensure social distancing.
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey reversed himself and allowed cities and counties to require face masks in public even though he hasn’t been seen wearing one.
“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” said Dr. Lisa Goldberg, director of the emergency department of Tucson Medical Center in Arizona. “In fact, it’s an ultra-marathon.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stressed that “the window is closing” for the United States to take action to effectively curb the coronavirus.
Mr. Azar pointed to a recent spike in infections, particularly in the South. He says people have “to act responsibly” by social distancing and wearing face masks, especially “in these hot zones.”
Speaking on NBC and CNN, Mr. Azar argued that the U.S. is in a better position than two months ago in fighting the virus because it is conducting more testing and has therapeutics available to treat COVID-19.
But he acknowledged that hospitalizations and deaths could increase in the next few weeks.
Global coronavirus cases exceeded 10 million on Sunday according to a Reuters tally, marking a major milestone in the spread of the respiratory disease that has so far killed almost half a million people in seven months.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Additional reporting from The Associated Press. Additional Reuters reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumakmer; Editing by Daniel Wallis.
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