California on Sunday ordered some bars to close, the first major rollback of efforts to reopen the economy in the most populous U.S. state as cases nationwide soar to record levels day after day.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s order for bars to close in Los Angeles and six other counties followed moves by Texas and Florida to shut all their bars on Friday. Public health officials in California and throughout the nation have identified bars as the most risky non-essential businesses currently open, the state said.
Consuming alcohol reduces inhibitions that leads to less compliance with wearing masks and keeping apart, health officials warn. Bars are also generally noisy, requiring patrons to shout, which spreads droplets more widely.
The surge in COVID-19 cases has been most pronounced in several Southern and Western states that did not follow health officials’ recommendations to wait for a steady decline in cases before reopening their economies.
For a third consecutive day on Saturday, the number of confirmed U.S. cases leapt by more than 40,000, one of the largest surges in the world. In many of these states, people under 35 have accounted for a large percentage of new cases. More tests are also coming back positive, up to 25% in some areas.
Even in states where cases have been declining for weeks, bars have been a source of outbreaks. One bar in East Lansing, Michigan has been linked to more than 85 cases, according to local health officials who say that number is likely to rise.
In addition to bars, Texas shuttered tubing and rafting business on Friday to try to avoid crowds like those seen on Saturday in Arizona along the Salt River east of Phoenix.
As temperatures rose to above 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), dozens of people climbed into inflatable inner tubes with coolers and took to the water to escape the heat. Very few wore masks.
Some beaches in Florida are also closing ahead of next weekend’s Fourth of July holiday, which would have drawn large crowds.
In Arizona, cases have risen by 267% so far in June and jumped by a record 3,857 cases on Sunday, the eighth record-breaking increase this month. Georgia reported a record increase of 2,225 cases on Sunday. Fifteen states, including California, Florida and Texas, saw record rises in cases last week.
WEAR A MASK
Just a day after he sounded a note of optimism about the U.S. response to the pandemic and said the country was in “a much better place,” Vice President Mike Pence canceled events to campaign for Republican President Donald Trump’s re-election in Florida and Arizona due to the outbreak, campaign officials said on Saturday.
On Sunday, Pence traveled to Texas and attended a service at the First Baptist Church of Dallas where a 100-member choir sang without masks. Pence did wear a face covering while sitting in the audience, according to a video.
In early March, a church choir in Washington state gathered for a rehearsal before the state issued a stay-at-home order. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 87% of the singers developed COVID-19. Two members of the choir died.
Pence urged Texans to follow local laws requiring masks and said towns and counties in about half the state are requiring face coverings in public. Pence has defended Trump’s refusal to directly ask all Americans to wear masks.
Global coronavirus cases exceeded 10 million on Sunday according to a Reuters tally, marking a major milestone in the spread of the respiratory disease that has so far killed almost half a million people in seven months.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumakmer; Editing by Daniel Wallis)