The White House claimed on Monday that the US has been “a leader” in the global fight against coronavirus, despite infections nationally now approaching 3m, with 130,000 deaths, and America recently witnessing the highest ever number of new daily cases reported in the world.
With the majority of US states reporting increases in new cases, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said at a briefing on Monday afternoon: “I think the world is looking at us as a leader in Covid-19.”
The US has not yet got new infections under control, according to the leading public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci’s recent alarmed comments to Congress. And the EU chose not to include the US as a country approved for non-essential travel as it starts to open its borders.
This as officials in states across America’s southern sun belt are closing down parts of the economy again.
Parts of Arizona, Florida and Texas are all rolling back economic reopenings due to surges in Covid-19 infections. All three states reopened swiftly this spring, and local officials are now attributing an explosion of cases to those early decisions.
Florida surpassed 200,000 cases over the weekend with the pace of new diagnoses quickening. But even as Florida saw a particularly large rise, the governor, Ron DeSantis, said at a press conference on Monday: “I think we’ve stabilized.”
He stopped short of calling for mandatory face coverings in public, and encouraged people to “avoid closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings”. Despite evidence to the contrary, he also continued to push hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. Scientists now believe the drug is ineffective.
Meanwhile, local officials in DeSantis’s state rolled back the economic reopenings of the spring over concern hospitals, especially in south Florida, could soon be overwhelmed.
“We want to ensure our hospitals continue to have the staffing necessary to save lives,” said Miami-Dade county’s mayor, Carlos A Gimenez, as he closed bars, all restaurant dining, banquet halls, gyms and short-term rentals. “If we see crowding and people not following public health rules, I will be forced to close beaches again,” he said.
Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turns, told CBS on Sunday that, like Gimenez, his major concern in Texas was now hospital staffing.
“We can always provide additional beds,”Turner said. “But we need the people, the nurses and everybody else, the medical professionals, to staff those beds.”
“I’m still worried about [the] July 4 weekend and hoping that we don’t have the same spike after that that we did on Memorial Day weekend,” Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, said in an interview to local news station KVUE, referring to the late May holiday. “The numbers are scary if we don’t change the trajectory.”
In many cases, officials said increased infections were driven by the demographic at low-risk of death from Covid-19, especially people in their 20s and 30s, who were going to bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
In Florida, DeSantis said the most common age of new infections is 21. In Phoenix, Arizona, the mayor, Kate Gallego, told ABC on Sunday that the behavior of people between 21and 44 had led to “the explosion” in cases.
“We opened way too early in Arizona,” Gallego said. She later added: “We’re seeing a lot of people go to large family gatherings and infect their family members.” Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, closed theaters, bars and gyms before the long holiday weekend.
The age of new infections may be driving what appears, at first glance, to be a contradictory phenomenon: Covid-19 infections are increasing, but deaths remain steady. Younger people without chronic health problems are less likely to die from Covid-19, although they can still become sick and infect other higher-risk people.
However, another reason deaths have so far remained steady is because hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators for Covid-19, which has a long incubation period. Increases in these numbers can trail infections by weeks as people infected with the disease develop symptoms, and go to hospitals when they have difficulty recovering.
As of Monday, most states were seeing an increase in cases, according to a Covid-19 tracker developed by Johns Hopkins University. The previously hard-hit north-eastern US appeared to be one of the few regions uniformly recovering.
New York City entered a new phase of reopening on Monday. Nail and tanning salons, dog runs and indoor sports facilities, such as volleyball and handball, reopened.
While 7,000 New York City restaurants have opened for outdoor dining, indoor dining will be postponed for a “substantial amount of time” because of outbreaks traced to bars and restaurants nationally.
The new hotspots also pose risks for states across the country which have contained the virus. In New Jersey, which slowly reopened after being pummeled by infections in spring, more than a dozen new cases were tied to those returning from the vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“I do not want to have to hit another pause on our restart because a small number of New Jerseyans are being irresponsible,” New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, said on Monday, according to the local news station WPVI.