Texas’ governor has ordered all bars to close and limited public gatherings to fewer than 100 people in the second attempt in as many days to snuff out a sudden spike in new coronavirus cases in the state.
The new executive order from Governor Greg Abbott, which also requires restaurants to cut their indoor dining to half capacity, came as Florida reported a major surge in new cases, recording 8,933 infections — or nearly double the 4,974 cases reported on Thursday. Florida authorities also banned alcohol from bars across the state.
Florida and Texas are two of more than a dozen states in the south and west which have seen a new wave of coronavirus cases, raising the prospect that many of the regions that reopened their economies quickly will have to reverse the measures.
That possibility sent jitters through Wall Street, with the benchmark S&P 500 dropping sharply after the Texas and Florida announcements. The index was nearly 2 per cent lower in afternoon trading, with high-yield bonds also hit by the news of the spread of the virus.
“The latest case counts confirm to everybody that we are not in a position to relax social distancing guidelines,” David Kelly, the chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, said. “There was too much exuberance in the bounce back we saw in recent weeks because it was almost discounting no economic threat for the rest of this year.”
Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert helping to lead the US fight against the pandemic, said some states may have to return to full “shelter-in-place” policies, but advised that they should first start with more limited restrictions such as avoiding crowds and wearing masks.
“If you say you’re going to go back into lockdown, there’ll be an absolute push back on that,” Dr Fauci told an online Milken Institute conference. “You might have to do it. You never take it off the table.”
Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, said he trusted Mr Abbott to do “what’s best overall for the citizens of Texas”, acknowledging the US economy will face “some little interruptions” as it emerges from the pandemic.
But he told Fox Business Network that he still forecast a “strong upward direction” for the US economy in second half of the year.
Mr Abbott’s new executive order comes a day after he banned elective medical procedures to free up beds to handle a wave of Covid-19 patients and marks a reversal for the Texas governor, who had been one of the most aggressive in allowing reopenings of restaurants and other businesses.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” said Mr Abbott, who had warned that new curbs would be needed if more than 10 per cent of tests were positive for Covid-19, a threshold the state has crossed.
“The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health,” he added.
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On Thursday, Texas recorded nearly 6,000 new cases, a one-day record for the state and the biggest increase in the US — which recorded a national record with 42,000 new infections.
Texas was not due to report its new daily numbers until the evening, but Arizona, another western state that has seen a sharp increase, announced on Thursday it had 3,428 new cases in the preceding 24 hours.
The Texas bar closures were to begin at noon on Friday and the limits on restaurants take effect on Monday. The Florida measures, announced by the state’s business department, does not require bars to shut, but suspended “on premises consumption of alcohol” statewide.
Additional reporting by Peter Wells and Hannah Kuchler