US health officials have warned the country is “not out of the woods” with coronavirus, urging people to wear masks and maintain distance from each other even at mass events such as protests and political rallies.
Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, urged the public on Friday not to return to their daily lives as states ease lockdown controls, after several reported new cases close to or at record highs.
The CDC also recommended that organisers of large public events enforce strict safety standards, in advice that applies to the protests that have swept the country following the death of George Floyd, and political rallies planned for the next few months.
The advice comes despite President Donald Trump pushing not to have masks or social distancing controls at this summer’s Republican convention in Florida.
“I know that people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life,” Dr Redfield said. “However, it is important that we remember that the situation is unprecedented and the pandemic is ongoing.”
Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, also warned that “if cases go up dramatically . . . more extensive mitigation, such as what was implemented in March, may be needed again”.
The CDC warning came as new data on Friday showed the outbreak was continuing to spread in the south and west, with states such as Alabama, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina reporting record one-day increases in new coronavirus cases.
Another 23,752 people in the US tested positive for coronavirus over the past day, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project on Friday. That marked the biggest one-day increase in a week, and the third-biggest daily rise in the past month. About 43 per cent of those came from five states — California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona — that each saw daily increases of more than 1,000.
Just hours before the CDC’s warning, the World Health Organization said the pandemic remained “on the upswing” in places such as South America and south-east Asia.
The WHO added that it was unsurprising to see the disease re-emerge in places that are exiting lockdown, though added that these additional “clusters” did not necessarily constitute a second wave of infections.
Several US states, including Florida, California and Texas, have seen a jump in newly reported cases after they began to ease their lockdown controls earlier than many other states.
Dr Redfield and Dr Butler said the recent rise in cases in the south and west of the US showed the pandemic was still ongoing. Dr Butler said the rise in cases could be a result of increased testing, pointing out that the number of people being hospitalised was not necessarily rising as quickly.
But US health officials are concerned about the impact of large public events during the summer, including political rallies and protest marches.
The CDC on Friday published guidelines for how to stage such events, including urging organisers to encourage attendees to wear masks and stay at least six feet away from each other.
The CDC advice deems gatherings as “highest risk” if they involve lots of people; if it is difficult to maintain social distancing; and if lots of attendees travel from out of town. They recommend that organisers change the layouts of venues to allow for more distance between attendees and encourage participants to use cloth face coverings.
Republicans confirmed on Thursday that their party convention would be moved from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, after Mr Trump clashed with Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, over how to stage the event there safely.
According to a spokesperson for Mr Cooper, the president had insisted on having a full convention arena with no social distancing and no face coverings.
Mr Trump has also announced the resumption of his campaign rallies, beginning next week with an indoor event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where organisers are requiring attendees to sign a promise not to hold the Trump campaign liable for any exposure to coronavirus.
Republicans would not say what safety measures would be taken at the August convention in Florida, though the state is one of several where new cases are once more on the rise following the easing of lockdown conditions.
Asked whether the CDC would specifically apply the recommendations to the Republican convention, Dr Butler, said: “The guideline is for any type of gathering . . . These are recommendations, or even suggestions, for how you can have a gathering that can keep people as safe as possible.”