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As US Coronavirus Infections Soar, Officials Adopt Mixed Messages

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) arrive with a correctional patient at North Shore Medical Center where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients are treated, in Miami, Florida, July 14, 2020.
Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) arrive with a correctional patient at North Shore Medical Center where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients are treated, in Miami, Florida, July 14, 2020.

The number of new U.S. coronavirus cases is soaring, but state governors are offering mixed messages on how to deal with the pandemic.

More than 60,000 new cases are being recorded each day, pushing the country’s largest retailer, Walmart, to require customers to wear masks at its 5,000 outlets.

Governor Kay Ivey of the southern state of Alabama ordered all residents to begin wearing masks effective Thursday, as the state reported nearly 50 new deaths on Wednesday. Montana Governor Steve Bullock in the western U.S. imposed a mandatory mask rule at all indoor public settings in counties where four or more people have tested positive for COVID-19.

Georgia bans mask mandates

But in the southern state of Georgia, which logged nearly 3,900 new cases, its second highest total since the start of the pandemic, Republican Governor Brian Kemp issued a new order explicitly banning cities from enacting their own mask mandates, even as he “strongly encourages” their use. He extended other statewide social-distancing restrictions.

Some city officials in the state, including the biggest city of Atlanta, had previously defied Kemp and mandated the use of masks. They voiced their anger at his new edict.

“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Savannah’s Democratic Mayor Van Johnson, who was the first local official to issue a mask mandate, wrote on Twitter. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

Ali Khan, a former official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that the upswing in the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is likely to continue unless mask wearing becomes commonplace.

“We should expect this disease to continue to hopscotch across the United States, because over 90 percent of people are still susceptible,” Khan said. “… Even places that think they’re doing quite well right now — they’re not. Until you get this contained within your community, you are at risk of it coming back again and increasing.”

Maryland governor blames Trump for chaotic response

Looking back to the early days of the pandemic in the U.S., Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, faulted President Donald Trump for a chaotic response.

As Hogan reportedly eyes a possible run for the presidency in 2024, he said in an essay in the Washington Post, that Trump earlier this year was quick to blame others for the country’s shortcomings in responding to the coronavirus as it swept in from China.

“It was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless; if we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death,” Hogan said.

“The president was all over the place,” the Maryland chief executive said. “He avowed, falsely, that ‘anybody’ could get a test, even as my fellow governors were desperately pleading for help on testing. Then he shifted from boasting to blame.

“We expected something more than constant heckling from the man who was supposed to be our leader,” Hogan said. “Trump soon disabused us of that expectation. On April 6, he declared that testing wasn’t Washington’s responsibility after all.”

The U.S. has now recorded nearly 3.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 137,000 deaths, with both figures far and away the biggest national totals across the world.

Oklahoma governor tests positive

Among the newly infected is Oklahoma’ Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican who attended Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts believe likely contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases there. Stitt, the first U.S. governor to be infected by the virus, has not imposed a statewide mask requirement.

Florida hospitals in crisis

Another governor who has declined to issue a statewide order requiring masks is Ron DeSantis in Florida, where the number of new infections has reached a crisis point, as hospitals are near or at full capacity.

Florida on Thursday reported the largest single-day increase in its number of coronavirus deaths, 156 more, since the pandemic began. The southeastern state recorded 13,965 new cases, bringing its total to more than 315,000.

Florida is one of several states across the southern and western U.S. with a surge of coronavirus infections and deaths, including Arizona, Texas and California. Organizers of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, held on New Year’s Day in the southern California city of Pasadena, announced Wednesday that it has cancelled the 2021 edition due to the pandemic.

The University of Washington is now projecting the number of people to die from COVID-19 will reach 224,000 by November 1, an increase of 16,000 from a prior forecast.