New Jersey adopted a stringent coronavirus face-mask order on Wednesday, and New York City unveiled a plan to allow public school students back into classrooms for just two or three days a week, as newly confirmed US COVID-19 cases soared to a daily global record.
Officials in New Jersey and New York, the hardest-hit states at the outset of the US outbreak, are trying to preserve progress in curtailing spread of the virus in the face of a resurgence elsewhere across the country, especially the South and West.
More than 47,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the two northeastern states, accounting for more than a third of the 132,000-plus Americans killed by the virus, according to a Reuters tally.
More than 60,000 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the United States on Wednesday, the greatest single-day tally of cases by any country since the virus emerged late last year in China. And US deaths rose by more than 900 for the second straight day, the highest level seen since early June.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy unveiled an executive order requiring face coverings outdoors where social distancing is not possible, citing a rise in the state's coronavirus transmission rate.
“It's about life and death,” Murphy, a Democrat, said at a briefing.
Many states require masks in public indoor settings and recommend them outside but have stopped short of mandating their use outdoors.
“I think that's the right thing to do,” said Jordan Grant, 23, a real estate accountant who expressed dismay at seeing people congregating without masks. “It's what we should have been doing months ago.”
Republican state Senator Michael Doherty, however, accused Murphy of “exploiting a public health crisis for power,” calling the new mask directive “oppressive.”
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan for 1.1 million students in the nation's largest public school district to return to classes in September. Pupils would alternate attending school two or three days weekly and spend the remaining time at home under the "blended learning" schedule, which requires state approval.
Pandemic and politics
Houston, the largest city in Texas and the US oil industry's hub, registered more than 1,000 new cases on Tuesday, a single-day record, Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted on Wednesday, calling the spread “severe and uncontrolled.”
Turner, a Democrat, ordered the cancellation of a Texas Republican Party convention scheduled for July 16-18 in Houston, citing public health concerns.
In neighboring Oklahoma, Dr. Bruce Dart, the top health official in Tulsa, said Trump's campaign rally at an indoor arena in the city last month likely contributed to hundreds of new coronavirus cases over the past few days.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said she had seen no data to support Dart's conclusions.
An outbreak at the Mississippi state Capitol in Jackson left 26 lawmakers and 10 others infected, prompting the governor to urge anyone who had contact with a legislator to get tested, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported.
The surge has forced authorities to backpedal on moves to reopen businesses, such as restaurants and bars, after mandatory closures reduced economic activity to a virtual standstill in March and April and put millions of Americans out of work.
In Arizona, one of the latest epicenters of the US outbreak, rising infections have swollen hospital admissions to the point where 91 percent of adult intensive care unit beds were occupied, the state health department said.