Florida has registered a record increase in coronavirus deaths for the second day in a row, raising new concerns about the severity of a wave of infections that has swept across populous US sunbelt states in recent weeks.
The state’s health department said that 217 people died over the past 24 hours, surpassing Tuesday’s record of 191 fatalities. Since the start of the pandemic, Florida has now registered 6,457 deaths, the seventh-highest death toll among US states.
Only a handful of other US states have reported single-day increases of more than 200 coronavirus deaths, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
Although deaths are typically regarded as a lagging indicator, the accelerating death toll in Florida — one of several big sunbelt states where cases have soared in recent weeks, along with California, Texas and Arizona — has cast a shadow over an encouraging trend that had developed in new cases.
The south-eastern US state confirmed a further 9,466 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours — the fourth day in a row that new infections have held below 10,000 after surging to record highs last week.
The trend was also on display in data from North Carolina, which reported a record 45 new deaths on Wednesday, even as the number of new cases eased below 2,000 for the fourth day in a row. In an effort to curb the disease’s spread, the state’s governor announced on Tuesday that alcohol sales would be banned after 11pm, to discourage late-night socialising.
Arizona, which has been taking steps to contain a sudden surge in cases, had 46 deaths and 2,339 new cases on Wednesday, well below recent record highs.
At the national level, deaths have been elevated while the rise in new cases appears to have plateaued. The increase in new cases across the US have declined for four days in a row, hitting 53,507 on Tuesday, after rising as high as 70,000 a day last week.
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Nationally, deaths have risen by more than 1,000 a day seven times in the past eight days, consistent with daily levels most recently seen in May.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday expressed optimism about the pandemic’s trend, citing “improvements across the major metro areas and most hotspots. You can look at large portions of our country; it’s — it’s corona-free.
“But we are watching very carefully California, Arizona, Texas and most of Florida,” he said at a press briefing. “It’s starting to head down in the right direction, and I think you’ll see it rapidly head down very soon.”
Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, on Wednesday told ABC News television that the “numbers speak for themselves”, after the US surpassed 4m coronavirus cases last week.
“That is serious business — no matter how many percentage are asymptomatic,” he said.
Dr Fauci and Deborah Birx, another top White House health official, have also expressed concern about the possibility of outbreaks in US Midwest states such as Ohio and Indiana, as well as Kentucky and Tennessee.
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