Florida has become the second US state to confirm a half-million coronavirus cases, while New York City is trying to keep the virus from flaring up again by setting up checkpoints to ensure that travellers from places with high numbers of infections comply with quarantine rules.
The rising cases in Florida underline the ferocity with which the latest wave of infections has hit the southern and western parts of the country, touching off fears of similar spikes in other parts of the US — including some that have already grappled with devastating outbreaks, like New York.
Over the past 24 hours, 5,409 people in Florida tested positive for Covid-19, the state’s health department revealed on Wednesday, taking the total number of cases there to 502,739. The Sunshine State’s case tally is second only to California, which had confirmed 524,772 cases as of Wednesday.
Within the past two weeks, the total confirmed Covid-19 caseloads in the three most populous US states — California, Texas and Florida — each overtook New York, which had been the early hotspot for the virus in the country.
The three states have been at the forefront of a surge in cases across the US sunbelt region over the summer. While there are signs that daily new cases are easing back from peak rates in July, all three have reported record daily increases in deaths from the virus within the past week. California reported more than 200 deaths on Wednesday and 5,295 new cases.
The US reported a further 1,401 coronavirus deaths — the most in a week — and 51,825 new infections on Wednesday, according to Covid Tracking Project data.
Another sunbelt state where cases had been surging, Arizona, has had more success. After recording an average of more than 3,800 cases a day in early July, on Wednesday, the state registered just under 1,700 cases and 87 deaths.
Doug Ducey, the state’s Republican governor, met Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, where the president and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response co-ordinator, praised the state’s efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.
“You’ve done a fantastic job, we’re very proud of you,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Ducey credited a “partnership” between the state government and the Trump administration in helping to bring down its number of infections through steps such as limiting large gatherings and temporarily closing certain businesses like bars, nightclubs and gyms.
“We are keeping our guard up, we’re staying vigilant, but there’s a real path forward,” he said.
Mike Pence, the US vice-president, was in Florida — a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election — on Wednesday, where he said he saw “encouraging trends all across the state of Florida and all across the Sun Belt”.
But public health experts fear that the sunbelt surge is starting to spread into other parts of the country, as Americans hit the road for summer travel.
In New York City, where cases and deaths have held steadily lower after peaking early in the pandemic, officials are taking steps to ensure that infections do not surge again. On Wednesday, Bill de Blasio, the city’s mayor, announced a plan to set up “checkpoints” as part of an effort to enforce a quarantine for travellers from other parts of the US.
The plans call for a checkpoint at Penn Station, a big train hub, to start on Thursday to distribute contact-tracing forms and inform travellers of the restrictions. Similar measures have been taken at New York airports. Checkpoints are planned for other entry points, such as bridges and tunnels.
“The checkpoints are going to send a very powerful message that this quarantine is serious. Even if we can’t reach every single person I think it’ll get the message across,” said Mr de Blasio.
New York and the neighbouring states of New Jersey and Connecticut announced in June that they would require 14-day quarantines for travellers who arrive in the area from states with elevated Covid-19 infection rates. The quarantine list recently included 34 states and the US territory of Puerto Rico.
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The Midwest is a particular area of concern, and cases have been trending higher in states including Missouri, with more than 55,000 cases; Ohio, which is nearing 100,000 cases; and Illinois, which has tallied about 188,000 cases since the pandemic began.
As cases in the region rise, public schools in Illinois’s largest city, Chicago, have decided to begin the new academic year online, with classes held remotely through at least the first quarter to allay fears about the safety of students and teachers.
Georgia also become the fifth US state to confirm more than 200,000 coronavirus cases, after adding nearly 3,800 infections on Wednesday.