Florida on Sunday became the first US state to report an increase of more than 15,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day, as pressure grew on officials to mandate the wearing of masks.
A further 15,300 people tested positive for the disease over the past 24 hours, the state’s health department said, up from 10,360 the previous day.
That is a bigger increase than the 11,694 reported by California on July 8, which governor Gavin Newsom said had been bolstered by a backlog of tests in hard-hit Los Angeles county. That in turn had unseated longtime record holder New York and its peak of 11,571 cases on April 15.
The surge in Covid-19 cases is forcing the worst-affected states to impose new restrictions, and comes as President Donald Trump was photographed sporting a mask in public for the first time.
On Saturday, Mr Trump wore a face mask during a visit to Walter Reed hospital, after previously deriding Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden for covering his face.
On the same day, the Democratic governor of Louisiana announced that bars would be shut and masks would be required for anyone in the state over the age of eight who was within six feet of a non-family member. The Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi have previously mandated mask-wearing in their states.
Over the past seven days, Texas has seen a 25 per cent uptick in the number of new coronavirus cases with more than 10,300 new cases reported on Saturday.
“It is really essential to wear a mask in public,” Brett Giroir, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force told ABC News on Sunday.
“In order for us to reverse this problem, we need about 90 per cent of people in those really [infected] areas to wear masks when they’re in public.”
In Florida, where Disney World reopened some of its theme parks over the weekend, the spike in new cases threatens to overwhelm the hospital system in certain parts of the state.
On Sunday, Carlos Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Florida’s Miami-Dade County, told CNN “it won’t be long” before his county reached its capacity for intensive care unit beds. A Louisiana infectious diseases expert said on Saturday that hospitals in the state were now overwhelmed. Arizona is also contending with a spike in cases, as is Georgia.
There are signs that the sun belt surge is changing the landscape of the November presidential election. Many of the states fighting an increase in cases are campaign battlegrounds.
A CBS-YouGov poll released on Sunday found that Mr Biden leads Mr Trump by six points in Florida, while the two candidates are tied in Arizona. The president leads Mr Biden by one point in Texas. Mr Trump comfortably beat Hillary Clinton in all three states in 2016. In all three states, a majority of voters said they believed their states had reopened too soon, CBS reported.
The surge in cases has presented a conundrum for the Trump administration, which is trying to convince states to reopen schools after the summer holidays while reigniting the president’s faltering re-election campaign.
In recent days, Mr Trump has repeatedly clashed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its guidelines for reopening schools, saying they were too tough to follow.
In interviews on Sunday, Betsy DeVos, Mr Trump’s education secretary, said schools should plan on reopening in the autumn, while still following the CDC’s guidelines to the best of their ability.
“The CDC guidelines are just that, meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” she told CNN.