LUBBOCK, Texas: As new coronavirus cases surged in Texas and Florida, officials in both states on Friday (Jun 26) ordered bars to once again close down and imposed tighter restrictions on restaurants, in a setback to efforts to open up their economies during the pandemic.
Governor Greg Abbott gave bars in Texas until midday on Friday to close down, while Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation told bars to immediately stop serving alcohol on their premises.
The announcements marked a major step back by both states -two of the largest and early drivers in attempts to re-open the economy – and an acknowledgement that infection figures had grown too worrisome to stand pat. Florida on Friday announced a startling 8,942 new COVID-19 cases.
That number was a leap from Florida’s previous record of 5,511 new daily cases, reached on Jun 24.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 2,414,870 total US cases of new coronavirus, an increase of 40,588 cases from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 2,516 to 124,325.
The attempts by Texas, Florida, South Carolina and other states at a more complete economic reopening have boomeranged in a resurgence of cases that is changing the nature of the pandemic and likely to test the strength of any broader economic rebound in the United States.
Texas had been at the forefront of states peeling away restrictions designed to control the deadly pandemic. It allowed bars to reopen in May, when revellers flouting social distancing rules celebrated Memorial Day weekend.
It has since witnessed one of the biggest increases in new cases in the United States, reporting 5,996 on Thursday. The state has seen a record number of hospitalisations for 13 straight days.
Abbott ordered bars to shut once again at noon on Friday, except for take-out, and told restaurants to limit indoor capacity to 50 per cent, from a previous 75 per cent.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 per cent, the state of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. The percentage of tests resulting positive in Texas reached 12.7 earlier this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health experts say that a high rate of positive testing signals that the state is losing control of the spread.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday criticised states that reopened their economies before getting the coronavirus spread under control, saying there was “undeniable, irrefutable evidence” those states made a mistake.
Cuomo, a Democrat, told a briefing that states that followed guidance from the White House are now seeing a spike in cases, arguing that New York curbed the outbreak by taking what he called a scientific, rather than a political, approach.
“What’s going on in this country is now frightening and revealing at the same time,” Cuomo said. “I say it is time to wake up, America, and look at the undeniable facts.”
Initially the epicenter of the US outbreak, New York now has the lowest positive test rate in the country.
Many of the states that were spared the brunt of the initial outbreak or moved early to lift restrictions on residents and businesses are seeing rising numbers of infections and hospitalizations.
Also reporting record rises in cases this week were Alabama, Arizona, California, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.
In Texas, the governor on Friday also banned most outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people without approval. On Thursday, he suspended elective surgeries in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to free up hospital bed space.
The mayor of Austin, the state capital, faulted Abbott for not requiring Texans to wear face coverings. “We have to make it mandatory,” Steve Adler, a Democrat, told CNN.
He said Austin residents have only a week or two to make behavioral changes to avert a hospital capacity crisis. “The trajectory that we’re on right now has our hospitals being overwhelmed, probably about mid-July,” he said.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday called on residents of Houston and its suburbs to stay home and raised the threat level to severe. “This pandemic is like an invisible hurricane where your neighbourhood is flooded,” she said.