Virus cases in California, Texas and Arizona at record highs

California, Texas and Arizona were among the US states reporting a record number of coronavirus cases on Wednesday, touching off a new wave of concern about the speed at which the disease is spreading in emerging US hotspots ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend.

California, which saw some of the earliest cases of coronavirus in the US, had largely escaped the early wave of cases that hit states like New York in the north-east. However, that trend has reversed in recent weeks, after the state began to loosen some restrictions.

The state’s health department reported 9,740 cases since Tuesday, taking the total number of positive cases in the state to nearly 233,000. Texas reported 8,076 cases, topping a record set the previous day by more than 1,100, with 57 deaths, the biggest one-day increase since mid-May 

Hospitals in some parts of Texas, which was among the last states to lock down and first to reopen, have been overwhelmed by the sudden rise in cases. More than 6,900 people are hospitalised there as of July 1, a record for the state.

Houston-based Texas Medical Center — the largest hospital system in the US — revealed on Wednesday there were 1,350 patients in its intensive care unit wards in the area, surpassing normal capacity of 1,330. Patients with coronavirus accounted for 36 per cent of those beds.

Arizona also reported a record one-day rise in cases, with 4,878 people testing positive over the past day, and a record 88 deaths, the state’s health department said. Mike Pence, the US vice-president, was in Phoenix on Wednesday to discuss the situation with state and local officials.

The relentless increase in cases in some states, particularly in the south and west, has prompted businesses and local governments to slow, halt or reverse reopening plans, as optimism that the worst of the pandemic has passed continues to fade.

Apple on Wednesday announced that it will re-close 30 US retail stores in seven states — including Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and its home state of California — signalling to investors and other retailers that large parts of the country are not prepared to safely reopen from lockdowns imposed earlier this year to slow the virus’s spread.

Gavin Newsom, Democratic governor of California, ordered businesses with indoor operations and bars in some of the state’s most populous and hardest-hit counties, including Los Angeles, to close.

The measures apply to restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, cinemas, zoos, museums and casinos in 19 of California’s 58 counties that are on a monitoring list, unless they are able to offer outdoor or takeaway versions of their operations.

Mr Newsom also said parking facilities at southern California and Bay Area beaches would be closed for the July 4 holiday weekend, and encouraged counties to consider cancelling fireworks shows in an effort to limit social gatherings.

Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor, said that the city, an early hotspot during the pandemic in the US, would not allow restaurants to offer indoor dining as it proceeds to the next phase of its reopening on July 6, even though cases there remain well below their April peaks.

The return of customers to indoor bars and restaurants has been suspected of playing a role in spreading coronavirus through states that were among the earliest to reopen their economies.

“I was hopeful we could” reopen indoor dining, Mr de Blasio said on Wednesday, “but the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time.”

The spike has also made some companies more cautious about plans to bring workers back to offices. Citigroup had abandoned plans to return hundreds of workers to the bank’s offices across 13 western and southern US states that have reported a rise in cases, a person familiar with the situation said.

A growing list of cities and states have been taking action to slow the spread of the virus, in an effort to avoid a jump in infections.

Over the past week, Texas, Florida, Arizona and Colorado all ordered bars statewide to close, effectively throwing their reopening plans into reverse.

Michigan on Wednesday ordered some bars and nightclubs to cease indoor service, while Pennsylvania mandated that masks be worn in all public spaces. 

Several other states reported a record daily jump in cases on Wednesday, including Georgia, which registered nearly 3,000 cases. Brian Kemp, its Republican governor, has embarked on a statewide tour to promote wearing a mask, but told reporters he would not make it mandatory.

North Carolina reported a record 1,843 cases over the past 24 hours. The state last week paused its reopening and ordered residents to wear face coverings to help limit the spread of the virus.

Cases are also increasing in several Midwestern states, including Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas, according to figures from state health departments.

Although new cases are rising at a less dramatic pace than in the south and west, the upward trajectory in the Midwest has caused alarm among some public health officials given that the region had recently been seen as a relative bright spot.

Elizabeth Holzschuh, an epidemiologist for Johnson County, Kansas, the state’s most populous county, said her department had “seen a tremendous growth in cases in the past week”, adding: “This is a sink or swim week for us because there are so many cases.”

She said the county was recording an average of 60 cases a day, a 29 per cent increase compared with the previous week. “Unfortunately, we are not heading in the right direction. I am afraid that soon will be in the same situation as our southern and western neighbours.”

A further 44,358 people in the US tested positive for coronavirus between Monday and Tuesday, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. Through the month of June, the daily case rate in the US rose 105 per cent.

In a sign the virus may be re-emerging in states that appeared to have brought it under control, 43 US states have seen their average daily case rate rise from a week ago, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. For June as a whole, 33 states experienced a rise in their daily rate of infections.

Additional reporting by David Crow, Laura Noonan and Patrick McGee

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