US states reimpose virus measures as cases spike

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Miami (AFP)

With coronavirus cases surging across the US South and West, officials are once again imposing tough measures, from stay-at-home advice in worst-hit states to quarantines to protect recovering areas like New York.

Nearly four months after the United States reported its first death from COVID-19, the nation faces a deepening health crisis as a wave of infections hits young Americans and experts issue new acute warnings.

The world's largest economy is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with a mounting death toll of over 121,000 dead.

Some officials -- including the Texas governor -- who loosened restrictions on business, dining, public gatherings and tourism, are now urging residents to again stay home.

Three northeastern states that made progress beating back the pandemic -- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- on Wednesday urged visitors arriving from US hotspots to quarantine themselves.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the advisory applied to visitors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas.

Several states in the South and West including heavily populated Florida and Texas are suffering what White House advisor and top scientist Anthony Fauci described as "disturbing" new surges in infections.

Daily case averages are being pushed to record levels in the region, even as former epicenters like New York and Detroit have seen their figures drop.

Fauci warned that the next two weeks would be "critical" to addressing the surges, which have also hit the nation's most populous state, California.

Florida marked 5,508 new infections on Tuesday, bringing its total to more than 109,000 confirmed cases and 3,281 deaths.

Governor Ron DeSantis said the state was experiencing "a real explosion in new cases among our younger demographics," and a spike in hospitalizations.

He warned that bars and restaurants could lose their alcohol licences if they do not follow social distancing guidelines.

DeSantis declined to order a state-wide mandatory masking policy as leaders in California and Washington state have done.

But that hasn't stopped Miami from implementing its own mandatory mask rules.

- Stay home -

In Texas, which was among the most aggressive states in reopening in early June after months of lockdown, new cases hit a daily high of 5,489 on Tuesday.

A concerned Governor Greg Abbott warned Texans of the virus's "rampant" spread and said the "safest" place to be was in their homes, adding that those who needed to go out should wear masks.

"If those spikes continue, additional measures are going to be necessary," he said.

Abbott is an ally of Donald Trump, but his warnings are at stark odds with the president, who proclaimed Tuesday that "we did a great job on CoronaVirus."

Epidemiologist Rebecca Fisher said states like Texas should have maintained their mitigating efforts longer.

"It doesn't look like we are coming close to the top of the peak," Fisher told AFP. "And we're definitely not coming down the other side of this yet."

The southwestern border state of Arizona is seeing dangerous spikes too.

Its confirmed COVID-19 cases have more than quadrupled since the stay-at-home order expired on May 15, and people getting infected are younger and younger.

Arizona's reported seven-day rolling average of 39 new cases per 100,000 residents is a nationwide high.

That compares with 14 per 100,000 residents in Texas, 11 per 100,000 in California, and just three per 100,000 in New York state, according to the Washington Post.

But the dire figures did not stop Trump from hosting a rally Tuesday in Arizona's largest city Phoenix, where most attendees did not wear masks or practice social distancing.