Worsening US outbreak prompts tough actions as new Covid cases hit record

By Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg Time of article published31m ago

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NEW YORK – New Jersey adopted a stringent coronavirus face-mask order on Wednesday, and New York City unveiled a plan to allow public school students back into classrooms for just two or three days a week, as Covid-19 cases soared elsewhere in the United States.

Officials in New Jersey and New York, the hardest-hit states at the outset of the U.S. outbreak, are trying to preserve progress against the virus as it resurges in other parts of the country, especially the South and West.

More than 47,000 people have perished from Covid-19 in the two northeastern states, representing more than a third of the 132,000 US deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Nearly 59,000 new Covid-19 infections were reported across the United States on Wednesday, the greatest single-day national tally of cases yet since the virus emerged late last year in China.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ordered people to wear face coverings outdoors when social distancing was not possible, citing a rise in the state’s coronavirus transmission rate.

“It’s about life and death,” Murphy, a Democrat, said at a briefing.

Many states require masks in public indoor settings and recommend them outside, but have stopped short of mandating their use outdoors.

“I think that’s the right thing to do,” said Jordan Grant, 23, a real estate accountant who expressed dismay at groups congregating without masks. “It’s what we should have been doing months ago.”

Republican state Senator Michael Doherty, however, accused the New Jersey governor of “exploiting a public health crisis for power,” calling the new mask directive “oppressive.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan for 1.1 million students in the nation’s largest public school district to return to classes in September. Pupils would alternate attending school two or three days weekly and spend the remaining time at home.

‘BACK TO SCHOOL’

Republican President Donald Trump, who has exhorted Americans to return to their daily routines, threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that fail to reopen on their normal schedule due to the coronavirus outbreak.

States are chiefly responsible for primary and secondary education, but the federal government provides some supplementary funding.

Vice President Mike Pence said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would soon issue new back-to-school protocols after Trump criticized current recommendations as too strict and costly. But Pence stressed that CDC guidelines are advisory.

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in 42 of the 50 states over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Meanwhile, the percentage of people testing positive among those who are screened has climbed above 5% – to levels health experts deem concerning – in some two dozen states.

On Tuesday, the number of confirmed U.S. cases crossed the 3 million mark, roughly equivalent to 1% of the population and about 25% of all known infections worldwide.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who faces Trump in a Nov. 3 election, described the grim milestone as “awful” and “avoidable.” He accused Trump of putting the nation in a precarious spot by not ramping up testing and deliveries of protective equipment.

The virus is sweeping through a number of heavily populated states, including California and Texas. Twenty states have reported record increases in cases this month.

PANDEMIC AND POLITICS

Houston, the largest city in Texas and the U.S. oil industry’s hub, registered more than 1,000 new cases on Tuesday, a single-day record, Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted on Wednesday, calling the spread “severe and uncontrolled.”

Turner, a Democrat, ordered the cancellation of a Texas Republican Party convention scheduled for July 16-18 in Houston, citing public health concerns.

In neighboring Oklahoma, Dr. Bruce Dart, the top health official in Tulsa, said Trump’s campaign rally at an indoor arena in the city last month likely contributed to hundreds of new coronavirus cases over the past few days.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said she had seen no data to support Dart’s conclusions.

An outbreak at the Mississippi state Capitol in Jackson left 26 lawmakers and 10 others infected, prompting the governor to urge anyone who had contact with a legislator to get tested, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported.

The surge has forced authorities to backpedal on moves to reopen businesses, such as restaurants and bars, after mandatory closures reduced economic activity to a virtual standstill in March and April and put millions of Americans out of work.

Reuters