Florida on Saturday reported at least 11,445 new coronavirus cases – the state’s largest number of daily cases so far – as the United States celebrated an Independence Day unlike any other.
Many parades and fireworks displays were canceled, beaches and bars closed, and concern was growing that the festivities could cause a spike in coronavirus cases.
Health authorities are warning that this weekend will be a crucial test of Americans’ self-control, and that it could determine the trajectory of the surging COVID-19 outbreak.
With confirmed cases climbing in 40 states, governors and local officials have ordered the wearing of masks in public, and families were urged to celebrate their independence at home.
Even then, they were told to keep their backyard cookouts small.
The virus has infected more than 190,000 people in Florida and at least 3,700 people have died.
New cases in the Sunshine State have increased by 67 per cent based on a seven-day average.
Florida reported Saturday that 14.1 per cent of those tested for the virus were positive, well above the five per cent threshold that the World Health Organization advises for safe reopening.
Even as Florida reports record case numbers, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he won’t close businesses again and has repeatedly refused to order a statewide mask mandate to curb the spread of the virus.
Florida accounts for roughly 20 per cent of all new cases in the U.S.
Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Tampa on Thursday, praised Florida’s governor for his ‘innovative’ response to the pandemic and said that Florida is in a ‘much better place’ to fight the current outbreak.
Pence postponed campaign events in Florida due to the increase in positive cases there.
The state’s approach has been defined by a patchwork of varying rules, with officials in South Florida, where viral cases have spiked, being the most stringent.
Miami’s beaches are closed this weekend.
In Central Florida, by contrast, some theme parks have reopened. Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are set to reopen July 11, Epcot and Hollywood Studios four days later.
Infectious disease specialist Aileen Marty warned Friday that Florida was ‘heading a million miles an hour in the wrong direction’ in dealing with the pandemic and said residents are not following public health guidelines to slow the spread.
‘It’s absolutely the saddest thing, the most unnecessary situation that we’re finding ourselves in,’ Marty said in an interview with CBS This Morning.
‘And it’s behaviorally driven.’
‘This year is a huge bummer, to say the least,’ said Ashley Peters, who for 14 years has hosted 150 friends and relatives at a pool party at her home in Manteca, California, complete with a DJ, bounce house, water slide and shaved-ice stand.
This time, the guest list is down to just a few people.
Pulling the plug on the bash, she said, was a ‘no-brainer’ because so many of those she knows are front-line workers, including her husband, a fire captain.
‘I woke up and told my husband I wish it was just July 5,’ she told Associated Press.
Health experts agree this will be a pivotal moment in determining whether the nation slides into a deeper mess.
The fear is that a weekend of crowded pool parties, picnics and parades will fuel the surge.
‘We’re not going to be arresting people for having gatherings, but we’re certainly going to discourage it,’ said Dr Jeff Duchin, public health director for Seattle and King County.
Those who decide they must gather with a small group of family members need to be careful, he said: ‘Don’t share utensils, don’t share objects, don’t pass them back and forth, because you’re passing that virus around as well.’
The warnings were sounded after a Memorial Day weekend that saw many people emerge from stay-at-home orders to go to the beach, restaurants and family gatherings.
Since then, confirmed infections per day in the U.S. have rocketed to an all-time high, more than doubling.
The U.S. set another record on Friday with 52,300 newly reported cases, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The picture was bleak around much of the country.
In Arizona, the number of people in the hospital with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 eclipsed 3,000 for the first time.
Alabama reported more than 1,700 new confirmed cases, its highest single-day count yet.
New York state, which has largely tamed the virus, recorded 918 new cases, the most in at least three weeks.
‘I am really concerned,’ said Paul Kanitra, mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, a popular shore town that was unexpectedly overrun by thousands of tourists who swarmed the beach and boardwalk a few weeks ago at a ‘pop-up party,’ paying little heed to social distancing or masks.
‘We’re seeing spikes across the country in states that opened up weeks ago, and while we’re doing a good job in New Jersey, there are a lot of people that are way too cavalier about social distancing,’ he said.
‘There’s inherent risk in all of this.’
Large crowds are expected at the shore for the holiday weekend: New Jersey’s casinos have reopened, along with amusement rides and water parks.
Beaches are open, though at reduced occupancy levels. Restaurants can offer limited outdoor dining, and stores and shopping malls have reopened.
But not everyone is following rules designed to prevent the spread of the virus, including wearing masks and keeping six feet apart.
In late June, large crowds swarmed D’Jais, a popular oceanfront nightclub in Belmar in scenes reminiscent of pre-pandemic days. Few patrons wore face coverings, and fewer still kept their distance from others on a packed dance floor.
Governor Phil Murphy saw videos of the packed club and warned the state will not hesitate to reimpose harsher restrictions if people don’t behave.
‘We cannot let up on our social distancing or our responsibility just because the sun is out,’ the governor said.
‘We can’t be lulled into complacency and think it’s OK to crowd around a bar. That is how flare-ups happen.’
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian pleaded with residents and visitors to wear masks during the long holiday, including on the boardwalk, noting, ‘Ocean City is already very crowded.’
Ocean City officials plan to roam the boardwalk Saturday from 5pm to 7pm, awarding prizes at random to families and individuals wearing face coverings.
Although New Jersey’s hospitalization rate is down drastically from a peak a few months ago, officials fear hospitalizations for the virus will rise again if people become lax about taking precautions.
‘We are especially concerned after the gatherings we saw at the Jersey Shore,’ added the state’s health commissioner, Judith Persichilli.
‘Individuals were packed together, which raises the risk of spreading the virus.’
A big test is happening this weekend with the reopening of eight of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
The Borgata is remaining closed due to smoking, drinking and indoor eating bans Murphy imposed on the gambling halls.
Most casinos scan guests temperatures upon entering, hand sanitizer dispensers are placed throughout the premises, and everyone inside must wear a mask.
Despite it all, there will still be fireworks and community events scattered across the nation, with many taking social distancing into account.
In Ohio, Upper Arlington’s July Fourth parade will take a much longer route through its neighborhoods so residents can watch without crowding the streets.
‘We’re calling it the front porch parade,’ said organizer Sam Porter.
‘We can’t just not do something.’
Fireworks will be launched from four spots across Albuquerque, New Mexico, so that people can ooh and aah from home instead of gathering in a single place.
Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July Picnic will carry on at his Texas ranch outside Austin, but this year the concert portion will be virtual.
President Donald Trump traveled to South Dakota on Friday for a fireworks show at Mount Rushmore before returning to the nation’s capital for military flyovers Saturday and a mile-long pyrotechnics display on the National Mall that his administration promises will be the biggest in recent memory.
Up to 300,000 face masks will be given away – but not required.
The big party will go on over objections from Washington’s mayor.
‘Ask yourself, do you need to be there? Ask yourself, can you anticipate or know who all is going to be around you? If you go downtown, do you know if you’re going to be able to social distance?’ said Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Beaches that had been open for the traditional start of summer over Memorial Day weekend will be off-limits in many places this time, including South Florida, Southern California and the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans who do go to the beach to wear face coverings, though not in the water.
With many professional pyrotechnic displays canceled, authorities are bracing for wildfires and injuries caused by Americans shooting off fireworks at home.
Sales of fireworks have been booming in what some sellers say may reflect a desire for a little excitement among people cooped up for so long.
Jamie Parrott, a pediatric neurologist in Columbia, South Carolina, said he intends to stay home with his grandchildren, setting off fireworks and eating hamburgers, because that’s the safer course for older people like him.
‘We’ll muddle through,’ he said.
Delaware’s governor ordered bars in some beach towns to close, saying people were getting complacent about masks and social distancing.
The Lake Erie resort village of Put-in-Bay in Ohio canceled its fireworks after a small number of coronavirus cases were linked to bars on the island.
And the New Jersey resort town of Wildwood did the same.
Still, many people are expected to pack the beaches, boardwalk restaurants and amusement parks up and down the Jersey shore.
South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach is one of the nation’s worst hot spots for COVID-19, and officials in several other states blame their outbreaks on vacationers returning from the resort city.
On Thursday, the city passed a mask requirement.
‘I hate the perception that people have right now, as any city would,’ said Mayor Brenda Bethune.
After hearing Michigan’s governor warn about the need to be smart amid an uptick of cases, Mary Halley of Jonesville said her family canceled plans for a weekend outing on Lake Michigan.
‘We had some disappointed kids, but we knew as a family we couldn’t do that,’ she said.
The problem, she said, is that too many people aren’t listening to the experts.
‘Even in my small, little town, there are lot of people who didn’t comply with the orders,’ she said.
Dr Don Williamson, head of the Alabama Hospital Association, said he is ‘really, really worried about the Fourth of July.’
‘I think that will likely determine the trend for Alabama for the rest of the summer,’ he said.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Harriet Alexander