US official warns 'window is closing' as coronavirus cases surge

Warning from US health secretary comes as world records 500,000 deaths and 10 million cases with reopenings rolled back.

    The world surpassed two sobering coronavirus milestones - 500,000 confirmed deaths, 10 million confirmed cases - and hit another high mark for daily new infections as governments that attempted reopenings continued to backtrack and warn that worse news could be yet to come.

    About 25 percent - more than 125,000 - of the deaths have been reported in the United States. The country with the next highest toll is Brazil with more than 57,000, or about one in nine of those infected.

    The true death toll from the virus is widely believed to be significantly higher as many victims died early on from COVID-19 without being tested for it.

    "COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks," said Governor Greg Abbott, who allowed businesses to start reopening in early May but on Friday shut down bars and limited restaurant dining amid a spike in cases.

    California Governor Gavin Newsom rolled back the reopening of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles. He ordered them to close immediately and urged eight other counties to issue local health orders mandating the same.

    More Florida beaches will be closing again to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus as officials try to tamp down on large gatherings amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said interactions among young people are driving the surge.

    "Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are," DeSantis said.

    The World Health Organization announced on Sunday another daily record in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world - topping more than 189,000 in a single 24-hour period. The tally eclipses the previous record a week earlier at over 183,000 cases, showing case counts continue to progress worldwide.

     

    'Time running out'

    The United States surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with the country's health secretary Alex Azar warning time to take decisive action on the respiratory disease was running out.

    To date, more than 125,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the US, the most of any country, since the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December.

    The US confirmed its first case in February, but the caseload has risen as the disease has spread into southern and western states, as well as rural regions, which were less badly affected at the start of the outbreak. 

    On Sunday, for the third consecutive day, new US cases rose by more than 40,000.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, appearing on CNN and NBC on Sunday, warned "the window is closing" for the US to take action to effectively curb the coronavirus. He urged Americans "to act responsibly" by social distancing and wearing face masks especially in the newly emerging "hot zones".

    Five populous states in the west and south - Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, and Nevada - on Saturday also reported record daily highs for new coronavirus cases. 

    Evolving outbreak

    On the west coast, California and Washington, DC, which were hit hard early in the outbreak, have also seen a troubling rise, prompting state leaders to slow reopening plans. 

    Meanwhile, an array of less-populated states and counties have seen an increase in daily cases, despite largely escaping the earlier surges. 

    Idaho, Oklahoma, and Kansas have seen their number of daily reported cases jump. Many rural counties in California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida saw their total number of cases double from April 19 to April 26, according to The Associated Press news agency. 

    The increase prompted Vice President Mike Pence to cancel campaign events for the upcoming presidential election in Florida and Arizona "out of an abundance of caution", according to the campaign. 

    Pence however, did visit Texas on Sunday, where he urged residents in "affected areas" to wear masks, despite there being no state-wide mandate to do so. 

    "Wearing a mask is just a good idea," he said.   

    The shifting situation in the US has created a distinct divide, with some areas that were initially hardest hit, and which imposed some of the harshest lockdowns, including New York and its neighbouring states, reporting declining cases and moving ahead with reopening plans.

    Reopening too soon

    Several states where cases are surging have been criticised for beginning to reopen too early, or not properly signalling to residents the severity of the outbreak and the precautions that need to be taken. 

    Kami Kim, director of the Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the University of South Florida, told Reuters news agency the state's leaders had claimed victory too soon after lockdowns were lifted starting in early May and had given conflicting messages on face coverings by not wearing masks themselves.

    "It was just complete denial by a huge swath of the politicians," she said, predicting the state may need to shut down again. "Unfortunately, our community still isn't taking it very seriously. People aren't wearing masks."

    Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said on Saturday he would delay plans to further open the state's economy because of rising cases. 

    In Texas, a state that was on the vanguard of letting people get back to work, Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars across the state to close and restaurants to limit indoor seating, expressing remorse that, in hindsight, he had allowed bars to open too soon.

    On Sunday, Abbot urged residents to stay home as much as possible. 

    "We need to understand that COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks," he said. 

    Why does coronavirus affect children and adults differently?

    The Stream

    Why does coronavirus affect children and adults differently?

    SOURCE: News agencies