“With Florida largely open for business, I don’t expect this surge to slow,” wrote Natalie E. Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.
Here are some significant developments:
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, both Democrats, are calling for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to impose a statewide stay-at-home order amid surging case numbers and increasing hospitalizations, the Houston Chronicle reported. Hidalgo wrote: “Not only do we need a stay home order now, but we need to stick with it this time until the hospitalization curve comes down, not just flattens.”
- Nationwide, new cases reached record levels in states across the United States over the weekend, even as weekly testing plateaued. Seven-day averages for new cases hit new highs in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico. Deaths were trending sharply up in nearly every major region of the country.
- The White House has moved to sideline Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with whom Trump has clashed over mask policy, state reopening strategies and the use of antimalarial drugs to treat covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The surge in cases came even as Disney World in Orlando reopened Saturday after having been shuttered for nearly four months. Nationally, the conversation over reopening has become increasingly fraught amid the newly soaring case numbers, with much of the debate centering on whether schools should open their doors in the fall.
On the Sunday morning news shows, Trump administration officials continued to give mixed messages, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos advocating for schools to reopen and Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant health and human services secretary, cautioning that it’s still too early to do so safely.
“When we get the virus more under control, then we can really think about how we put children back in the classroom,” Giroir, who is the government’s coronavirus testing coordinator, said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Another top official, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, faced tough questions about his previous statements urging Americans not to wear face masks. Adams responded by suggesting that medical professionals had learned more since then about asymptomatic spread.
“It’s important for people to understand that once upon a time we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics, and leeches and cocaine and heroin for people as medical treatments,” he said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “When we learn better, we do better.”
President Trump remained out of the public eye Sunday, spending much of the day at his golf course in Sterling, Va. He made no mention of the coronavirus pandemic in morning tweets but did retweet praise of his appearance in a face mask Saturday and defended his golf habit, falsely claiming that he has spent less time on the links than President Barack Obama.
The latest spike puts Florida at the center of the country’s faltering pandemic response, highlighting the ongoing struggle of state governments to gain an edge on the virus as the White House maintains its largely hands-off approach.
The situation is also serious in California and Texas, where officials on Sunday reported record seven-day averages for new cases — 8,664 in California and 9,060 in Texas. Health-care workers in both states are facing an influx of covid-19 patients.
The seven-day average for cases nationwide, considered a more reliable indicator of the virus’s impact than single-day totals, has risen almost 165 percent over the past month, from 20,594 in the second week of June to 54,499 at the end of last week, according to tracking by The Washington Post. The country’s daily death toll also increased last week after months of decline.
In the last week alone, Florida reported nearly 70,000 new cases, the most of any state. An influx of coronavirus patients is straining the Sunshine State’s hospitals, and coronavirus-related deaths in the state are trending upward after leveling off in the late spring.
Despite the soaring numbers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has stuck to an aggressive reopening plan. State officials recently ordered schools to reopen five days a week in the new academic year, drawing objections from local leaders. The state is also set to hold the Republican National Convention next month in Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, an indoor facility that seats about 15,000.
Shortly before Florida announced the new cases, DeVos made the rounds of Sunday news talk shows, where she continued to urge schools to reopen.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” she said she would like to see closed schools be the “exception” rather than the norm. Asked about surging caseloads in much of the country, she replied that schools could respond to “little flare-ups” in the future but that they should generally be open for full-time learning.
DeVos added on “Fox News Sunday” that the Trump administration was looking at “all the options” for pulling federal funding from schools that don’t open in the fall. Her remarks drew swift criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while the government health official in charge of testing signaled that the virus was still spreading too quickly to allow children to return to classrooms.
DeVos, Trump and other senior administration officials spent much of last week leaning on schools to reopen. They said children suffer academically, socially and emotionally when they are away from school and said remote learning this spring was a disaster for many families, points that outside experts also have made. And they said it was impossible for some parents to return to work if their children are at home.
Trump allies also see a political imperative in convincing voters that the nation is recovering from the pandemic, which will be hard if millions of families’ lives are still upended by school closures.
Last week, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis estimated there are nearly 1.5 million teachers, about one in four, who are older than 65 or have health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness if they were to contract covid-19. Asked about the finding, DeVos said there are ways for teachers to continue to work and that districts should collaborate with those teachers to “figure out the best scenario for those teachers.”
Pelosi called DeVos’s message “malfeasance and dereliction of duty” and accused the Trump administration of “messing with the health of our children” in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
Pelosi urged Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to make sure schools had access to personal protective equipment as the academic year approaches. She also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should take the lead in mandating health guidelines, rather than just offering guidance.
Even in places that have not registered a sharp rise in new cases, officials are resisting instructions to bring students back. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Sunday during an appearance on “Meet the Press” that his state would not be “rushed into” fully reopening schools, saying it would take a hybrid approach to learning during the pandemic.
Nationwide, new cases reached record levels in states across the United States over the weekend, even as weekly testing plateaued.
Seven-day averages for new cases hit new highs in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico. Deaths were trending sharply up in nearly every major region of the country.
New testing, meanwhile, is slowing nationwide after increasing throughout the spring. About 4.6 million diagnostic tests were administered in the United States last week, compared with about 4.5 million the previous week, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Several Trump administration officials on Sunday continued to urge Americans to wear face masks. On ABC, Giroir said masks were essential for slowing the virus’s spread, but he stopped short of calling for a national mandate.
“For this to work, we have to have, like, 90 percent of people wearing a mask in public, in the hot-spot areas,” he said.
Giroir also pushed back against Trump’s criticism of the CDC’s guidance for schools, telling host George Stephanopoulos, “I think the CDC guidelines are really right on target.”
And despite Trump’s repeated claims that the virus will one day “just disappear,” Giroir painted a dim picture of what’s to come in the months ahead, saying that he expects the number of hospitalizations and deaths to rise. He said the country would need “tens of millions of more tests a month” as seasonal respiratory infections return in the fall.
Adams, meanwhile, was asked by host Margaret Brennan on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” to explain his earlier insistence that face coverings would do little to prevent the spread of the virus.
In late February, Adams tweeted, “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” He added that face coverings “are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Adams had also said on “Face the Nation” in early March that “masks do not work for the general public in preventing them from getting coronavirus.”
On Sunday, Adams — who wore a face mask while appearing remotely on the program from Indiana — suggested that the scientific consensus had changed since then. He added that up to 50 percent of people who can spread the virus do so without having any symptoms.
“And that’s why the American people need to know that science is about giving the best recommendations you can, and when you learn more, you change those recommendations,” he said.
Robert Costa and Renae Merle contributed to this report.