More US states step back from reopening as COVID-19 cases surge

Moves come as Anthony Fauci blames rising infections on flouting of guidelines on physical distancing and mask-wearing.

    More US states and businesses have rolled back plans to reopen their economies, citing surges in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations, as the government's top infectious disease specialist blamed the spikes on Americans ignoring public health guidelines.

    California and Texas both marked record spikes in new COVID-19 infections on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, as the US's second largest city of Los Angeles reported an "alarming" one-day surge in infections. 

    Los Angeles has become a new epicenter in the pandemic as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge there despite California Governor Gavin Newsom's strict orders requiring bars to close and residents to wear masks in nearly all public spaces.

    US Miami
    People out and about on Ocean Drive in Miami, Florida. The US has recorded a quarter of the world's more than 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

    "The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations signals that we, as a community, need to take immediate action to slow the spread of COVID-19," Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said in a statement announcing the sharp rise.

    "Otherwise, we are quickly moving toward overwhelming our healthcare system and seeing even more devastating illness and death," Ferrer said.

    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a "hard pause" on when movie theaters, theme parks and other entertainment venues can reopen. Los Angeles County is the biggest movie theater market in the United States.

    The county also said its beaches will be closed for the Independence Day weekend and fireworks displays will be banned. Statewide positive tests for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, rose by at least 7,418 in California on Monday to nearly 223,000, the biggest one-day increase since tracking began. Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, has recorded 100,000 cases.

    COVID-19 infections in Texas rose by 6,545 on Monday to nearly 160,000, also setting a record for a one-day increase.

    On Friday, Texas ordered the closure of all its recently reopened bars, but that prompted a backlash with a group of bar owners launching a lawsuit to overturn Republican Governor Greg Abbott's order closing their businesses.

    36 US states see rise in coronavirus cases (1:42)

    They contend Abbott does not have the authority, and they complained that other businesses, such as nail salons and tattoo studios, remain open. "Governor Abbott continues to act like a king," said Jared Woodfill, attorney for the bar owners. "Abbott is unilaterally destroying our economy and trampling on our constitutional rights."

    In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey shut down bars, movie theatres, gyms and water parks with immediate effect. The shutdown is to last for 30 days. Ducey also ordered public schools to delay the start of classes until at least August 17. Most Arizona bars and nightclubs had opened after the governor's stay-at-home and business closure orders were allowed to expire in mid-May.

    Arizona health officials reported 3,858 more confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday, the most reported in a single day in the state so far and the seventh time in the past 10 days that daily cases surpassed the 3,000 mark. 

    "Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse," Ducey said on Monday.

    Since the pandemic began, 74,500 cases and 1,588 deaths stemming from the virus have been reported in Arizona.

    New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Monday indoor dining will not resume on Thursday as planned and would be postponed indefinitely. In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly imposed a statewide mandate requiring the wearing of masks in public spaces, which she said was necessary to avoid another shutdown.

    AMC, the largest US movie theatre chain, on Monday said it was pushing back the opening of its theatres to July 30 from July 15.

    In June, 22 US states reported record increases in new cases, often multiple times, including Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah.

    Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Tulsa
    US Vice president Mike Pence arriving at a campaign rally at the BOK Center, in Tulsa, Oklahoma [McNamee/Getty Images/AFP]

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN the public's flouting of guidelines such as social distancing, mask-wearing and avoiding large crowds was responsible for the uptick in cases. 

    "There are crowds. They are not physical distancing, and they are not wearing masks. That's a recipe for disaster," Fauci said in the interview broadcast on Monday.

    "Now, we're seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location like a prison or nursing home or meatpacking place," he added. 

    Face coverings have become a political issue, with some civil rights activists and supporters of US President Donald Trump arguing that such mandates are unconstitutional.

    But White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday that Trump "has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests".

    US Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday pressed Americans to adopt face masks during a trip to Texas and wore one himself, a sharp turnaround for the administration. Other Republican politicians in hard-hit states also are now calling for masks.

    The city of Jacksonville, Florida, venue for part of the Republican nominating convention in August, said on Twitter that it would require masks for all public locations starting later on Monday.

    The US accounts for about a quarter of all reported coronavirus cases and related deaths worldwide, which surpassed 10 million and 500,000, respectively, over the weekend.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday blamed Trump for the new surge in cases, saying the president's focus on reopening the economy had backfired. Cuomo has himself come under criticism for his handling of the virus in New York, which has recorded more than double the number of deaths than any other US state.

    The governor conceded in an interview on NBC News on Sunday that he had taken "political heat" for his decision to put recovering patients in nursing homes but denied that it put more elderly people at risk.

    SOURCE: News agencies