Trump to hold Independence Day celebration as virus surges

Many Americans were facing a July 4 without the fireworks as commemorative events were cancelled amid a continuing surge in coronavirus cases — with one high-profile exception.

Donald Trump heads to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, for an Independence Day celebration on Friday night that risks drawing a large crowd even as other state authorities move to restrict big gatherings because of the Covid-19 risk.

Kristi Noem, the Republican governor of South Dakota, has said there “won’t be social distancing” at the Mount Rushmore event, which she on Monday described as “large”.

“We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks,” she said. 

Several other cities and states have cancelled July 4 celebrations as they slow or reverse lockdowns in a bid to wrestle the virus under control. Texas, Arizona and Colorado have all ordered bars to close, while Florida, California and Delaware have shut some of their beaches. 

In recent days the number of new US daily coronavirus cases surpassed 50,000 for the first time, powered by record rises in the country’s two most populous states, California and Texas, with the daily case rate in the US rising 105 per cent throughout the month of June. 

The number of new cases in Arizona dipped slightly on Friday, but continued to rise in Texas, Florida and California, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

The rising caseloads have prompted public health experts to warn that thousands more people risk contracting the virus at the parties and gatherings traditionally held to celebrate the July 4 public holiday in the US.

On Tuesday Anthony Fauci, a top infectious diseases specialist and White House coronavirus task force member, warned that the US could see coronavirus cases hit 100,000 a day

Following his Mount Rushmore address, Mr Trump will return to Washington, DC, for a celebration on Saturday including air displays from the US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels, alongside the traditional fireworks. 

Mr Trump and first lady Melania Trump are expected to watch the displays from the south lawn of the White House, from where the president is expected to give an address.

The interior department said that more than 300,000 cloth face coverings would be available and distributed to visitors on the National Mall in central DC, and that social distancing was encouraged. 

Dr Fauci and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, have both urged Americans to wear masks, although Mr Trump has shown little enthusiasm for wearing them.

Mr Trump has also insisted that the rise in cases across America is due to increased testing, which he described on Twitter on Thursday as “so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country.” 

“This is great news, but even better news is that death, and the deaths rate, is down,” he tweeted.

According to the latest numbers released on Friday by Johns Hopkins University, the US has had 2,780,916 cases out of a global total of almost 11m. Almost 130,000 have died in the US out of a worldwide death toll of more than half a million.