Texas had posted record numbers on Wednesday, reporting more than 8,000 new cases since the previous day, as well as its second-highest single-day death toll before Abbott’s order, which requires face coverings in all public spaces in counties with 20 or more coronavirus cases, “with few exceptions.”
Arizona, which hosted Pence on Wednesday, logged 3,333 new cases — down from the previous day’s record of nearly 5,000. The vice president said he was deploying hundreds of additional medical personnel requested by the state.
And Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced 4,056 new cases over the last 24 hours, lower than record-breaking numbers posted earlier in the week, though Newsom said in a news conference that hospitalizations and the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care had increased significantly over the last two weeks.
Virus cases are on the rise in dozens of states across the country. On Wednesday, the U.S. as a whole exceeded 50,000 new cases in a day for the first time in the pandemic.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described the increase in an interview with BBC Radio as “a spike in cases that are well beyond the worst spikes that we have seen,” and warned that if the U.S. wasn’t able to get a handle on the latest surge, it could be staring down an “even greater outbreak.”
Earlier this week, Fauci expressed alarm about the surging caseload, saying he would “not be surprised” if the country began to see as many as 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day.
The new surge has led governors in more than a dozen states to pause or roll back their reopening process over the past week as hospitalizations because of the virus have also begun to tick up.
That includes Florida, California, Texas and Arizona, where the leaders of all four states have shut down bars and some beaches and reimposed restrictions on other kinds of businesses, canceling elective surgeries in hard-hit areas and empowering local leaders to issue face mask requirements.
In testimony to the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Thursday, Adm. Brett Giroir, the nation’s testing czar, reiterated that the swelling number of cases was not entirely due to more robust testing capacity, an explanation that the White House has leaned on often in recent weeks.
“There is no question that the more testing you get, the more you will uncover, but we do believe this is a real increase in cases because of the percent positivities are going up. So this is real increases in cases,” said Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.
He said definitively that the country was not “flattening the curve right now” when it came to coronavirus infections. Just a day earlier, he had warned that the surge was beginning to strain the country’s testing capabilities.
Public health officials have attributed much of the rise in new infections to younger Americans disregarding social-distancing recommendations, hanging out in bars and forgoing masks. Pence on Thursday said that roughly half of the new infections throughout the Sun Belt were diagnosed in younger people, asserting that those demographics were “good news because as we all know, younger Americans are much less susceptible to serious outcomes.”
But the White House has resisted any kind of nationwide mask mandate, and Pence on Thursday praised the administration’s hands-off, piecemeal approach to the pandemic.
“I think one of the keys to the historic leadership that President Trump brought to the coronavirus pandemic is we recognize that this pandemic would impact different parts of the country in different ways,” the vice president said on CNBC, lauding the administration’s “partnership” with state leaders.
He continued: “We gave them guidance to practice the kind of mitigation that was appropriate. I mean, there are some areas of the country, in fact large areas of the country, where we have a very low number of cases at all. And so, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, whether it be on testing or on supplies.”
In his BBC interview, Fauci took a differing stance on how effective the U.S. had been in combating the virus. The nation’s leading epidemiologist pointed to the curve of infections in much of Europe, noting that the success of those countries’ lockdowns allowed them to get down to a “baseline” of fewer cases after a massive initial spike.
“In the United States, even in the most strict lockdown only about 50 percent of the country locked down,” Fauci continued, asserting that due to the more lax measures the U.S. “never got things down” to a similar baseline.
“That allowed the perpetuation of the outbreak that we never really did get under good control,” he concluded.
Still, Pence adopted a tone of encouragement in Florida.
“We can meet this moment. We can slow the spread. We can flatten the curve in Florida just like we have in other parts of the country,” Pence said at a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to a press pool report.
Despite the new record numbers, Trump has also continued to express optimism about the worsening outbreak. On Wednesday, the president predicted in an interview with Fox Business that the virus would “just disappear.”
In a hastily called news conference on Thursday to tout the latest jobs numbers, Trump insisted that the U.S. was getting the outbreak “under control.”
“We have some areas where we’re putting out the flames or the fires, and that’s working out well. We’re working very closely with governors, and I think it’s working out very well. I think you’ll see that shortly,” he said, adding later that the “crisis is being handled.
But the president’s optimistic assessment does not match up with public sentiment.
A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this week found increasing fear about the pandemic among voters, with close to two-thirds expressing a desire for the government to address the spread of the virus over the economy, a 5-point increase from the beginning of June. More than three-quarters of voters say Americans should continue social distancing regardless of the effect on the economy, the poll found, a 7-point increase since the beginning of June.
A similarly large swath of voters is confident that the pandemic is far from over. More than 8 in 10 voters say a second wave of coronavirus is likely, a figure that includes 77 percent of Republicans.
The increase alarm among voters coincides with rising disapproval of Trump’s presidency, and record low optimism about the track the country is on.
Still, the president is pressing on with planned Fourth of July celebrations, beginning Friday with a trip to South Dakota. There, Trump will oversee a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, where organizers have said that neither face coverings nor social distancing will be required. More than 7,000 people are expected to attend.
The next day, the Trump administration will put on another military-heavy celebration in the nation’s capital, complete with military flyovers and an extravagant fireworks display, despite objections from local leaders about the cost and wisdom of holding such an event in the middle of a pandemic.
Trump’s upbeat view on the state of the country quickly drew fire from his chief rival in November’s election, with former Vice President Joe Biden accusing the president of “spiking the football” before even reaching “the 50-yard line.”
In a speech reacting to June’s job numbers, which look great on paper but which experts say obscure a darker reality, Biden declared that “there’s no victory to be celebrated when we’re still down nearly 15 million jobs and the pandemic is getting worse, not better.”
While he acknowledged that the jobs report showed some progress, Biden said that the president “wants to declare this health crisis over and unemployment solved. He’s deadly wrong — on both fronts.”