US coronavirus outbreak continues to spread south and west

The seven US states that reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday were in the south and west of the country, further evidence that the outbreak is quickly spreading in states that moved to reopen their economies last month.

Most of those seven states showed increases that were at or near all-time highs, including Florida, which reported 1,698 new positive tests over a 24-hour period, a one-day record. New daily cases in Florida have exceeded 1,000 for eight of the past 10 days, compared with a rate of just over 600 a month ago.

The prospect of a new wave of cases outside New York and New Jersey, which were the US’s biggest hotspots before imposing strict lockdowns, has spooked investors, sending the benchmark S&P 500 down nearly 6 per cent in Thursday trading.

Public health experts and analysts have expressed concern that governors in the south and west, at the urging of President Donald Trump, are moving too quickly to reopen their economies, risking new outbreaks only weeks after the US appeared to be bringing the pandemic under control.

Southern states managed to escape the kind of scrutiny that followed the March wave of cases that primarily hit states in the north-east and Midwest, and may have been “more inclined to ease restrictions earlier than was deemed prudent”, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“The consequences are now visible in the rising hospitalisation numbers, which aren’t affected by changes in testing or the testing criteria,” Mr Shepherson added.

States on Thursday reported 22,251 new cases over the previous 24 hours, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. Although that is similar to nationwide totals reported a month ago, they reflect a significant jump in Arizona, Alabama, Texas and California while New York and New Jersey have seen their caseload come sharply down.

The seven states with the most new cases, all of which had more than 800 over the past 24 hours, now represent about 46 per cent of new cases nationwide.

California had the biggest daily increase, with 3,090 people testing positive, but the state is the country’s second-biggest tester, behind New York. California’s 105 deaths since Wednesday was the first time in nearly a month that it has seen more than 100 fatalities over a 24 hour period.

Texas had a further 1,826 new cases, keeping its average rate over the past seven days near a record level, near 1,700. Arizona and North Carolina saw one-day increases of 1,412 and 1,310, respectively, though those near-record totals are close to last week’s levels.

Georgia, with 993 new cases, rounded out the group of states with the largest daily increases. It was one of the last states in the US to issue lockdown restrictions, but also one of the first to roll this back.

Alabama ranked seventh with 856 new cases, the state’s biggest one-day increase.

“It is obvious now that deaths are going to rise sharply in parts of the south over the next few weeks, because the hospitalisation numbers are terrifying, and in the absence of mitigating action on the part of policymakers or the citizenry or, preferably, both, the picture will soon look a good deal worse,” Mr Shepherdson said.