WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The recent spike in U.S. coronavirus infections has been fueled in large part by Americans ignoring public health guidelines to keep their distance and wear masks, the government’s top infectious disease official said.
FILE PHOTO: People prepare to go tubing on Salt River amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Arizona, U.S., June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Cheney Orr
A daily surge in confirmed cases and hospitalizations has been most pronounced in Florida, Texas and other southern and western states that disregarded benchmark guidelines from health officials to wait for a steady, two-week decline in infections before reopening their economies.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an 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,” Fauci said in the interview, which was recorded on Friday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has become one of the nation’s leading voices during the pandemic, said on Monday that President Donald Trump’s focus on reopening the economy was misguided and that it had backfired. Trump should issue an executive order mandating that people wear masks in public, and he should “lead by example” by wearing one himself.
Face covering to help stop the virus’ spread has become as much a political as a public health issue, with many Trump supporters saying such mandates infringe on their personal freedom.
U.S. 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 public facing covering.
The city of Jacksonville, Florida, venue for the Republican National Convention in August ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, said on its official Twitter account that it will be adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations starting later on Monday.
‘NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING OVER’
Arizona and Georgia were among the states reporting record new cases this week. Last week, a total of 15 U.S. states reported records, according to a Reuters tally.
In June, 22 U.S. states reported record increases in new cases, often multiple times, including Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah.
The United States accounts for about a quarter of all reported global coronavirus cases and related deaths, which surpassed 10 million and 500,000, respectively, over the weekend.
The pandemic “is not even close to being over,” World Health Organizatihere chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing on Monday.
Some Americans, particularly in the Sun Belt states, will no longer be able to look forward to going to a bar or a beach on the popular July Fourth long weekend after violations on crowd limits.
Beaches in Florida’s Broward County and Palm Beach County will not open on July 3-5, officials said on Sunday. Miami-Dade County had already announced beach closures for the Independence Day weekend.
California authorities on Sunday ordered bars in Los Angeles and six other counties to close. Texas and Florida ordered the closure of all their bars on Friday.
In places where the number of cases are soaring, U.S. health officials are also considering “completely blanketing these communities with tests,” Fauci said, to try to get a better sense of an outbreak.
They would either test groups, or “pools,” of people or have community groups do contact tracing in person rather than by phone. Contact tracing involves identifying anyone exposed to an infected person asking them to voluntarily go into quarantine.
Fauci said he was optimistic that a vaccine could be available by year’s end, but that it was unclear how effective it would prove to be.
No vaccine would be 100% effective, he said, adding that it was difficult to achieve so-called herd immunity, in which most of population would be safe because a very large percentage has received a vaccine or gained immunity through prior infections.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Maria Caspani in New York, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller and Bill Berkrot