US sunbelt coronavirus surge shows early signs of easing

The recent surge in coronavirus across the US sunbelt has shown tentative signs of slowing, even as the number of new cases remains substantially higher than a few months ago.

Florida on Monday reported fewer than 9,000 news cases, its smallest increase in almost three weeks. California and Arizona both reported the fewest number of new infections in about a week.

The slower pace could signal a more encouraging turn for the pandemic in the US, the country with by far the largest number of coronavirus cases. Last week coronavirus cases in the US topped 4m, while California and Florida overtook New York — the epicentre of the early wave — as the states with the highest number of infections.

The seven-day average of cases in the US is now 66,158 a day, having stood at just over 21,000 in mid-June. However, for the first time since June 13, the average new cases over seven days is now below the average over a fortnight.

Seven-day averages for new cases in a number of hard-hit US states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona are now below longer-term measures of infection.

Figures on Monday tend to be lower than other days of the week owing to weekend delays in reporting. But if the trend is sustained, it could indicate that the recent spike in Covid-19 cases that has hammered southern and western US states may be losing steam, after state and local officials tightened mask-wearing requirements and reimposed some lockdown measures to contain the virus’s spread.

Florida’s heath department said that 8,892 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, with 77 fatalities, the lowest increase since July 13. The state has averaged about 10,336 new cases a day over the past week, back from a record 11,870 in mid-July.

Mike Pence, the US vice-president who is leading the White House’s coronavirus task force, visited the state on Monday and said he was “encouraged by the favourable trends here in Florida”.

The seven-day average in Texas remained below its 14-day average for three straight days as of Sunday. In addition to containing the virus, Texas is also cleaning up from the aftermath of Hanna, which hit the state’s coast at hurricane strength over the weekend before weakening to a tropical depression.

Arizona is showing some of the most notable progress, after rolling back its reopening plans late last month amid a sudden rise in cases. The state on Monday confirmed 1,813 new coronavirus cases, the fewest in a week. Its seven-day average has eased to 2,663, from a peak of 3,844 in early July.

Hospitalisations are also slowing there. As of Sunday, 2,650 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 in Arizona, down from a mid-July record of more than 3,500.

Despite some signs of improvement, the national mood was still largely cautious. Major League Baseball, which finally kicked off its delayed season on Friday, cancelled two games after 11 members of the Miami Marlins team tested positive for Covid-19.

The University of Notre Dame in Indiana also announced it was withdrawing as the host for the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, citing “constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event”.

Mr Trump said last week that portions of the Republican national convention set to be held in Jacksonville, Florida, next month were cancelled, after having previously resisted such a move.