By Lisa Shumaker and Katanga Johnson
WASHINGTON – Japan Today
The United States on Thursday passed a total of more than 4 million coronavirus infections since the first U.S. case was confirmed in January, according to a Reuters tally, reflecting a nationwide escalation of the pandemic.
The United States took 98 days to reach its first one million cases of the coronavirus but just 16 days to increase from 3 million to 4 million, the tally showed. The total suggests that at least one in 82 Americans have been infected at some point in the pandemic.
The average number of new cases is now rising by more than 2,600 per hour nationwide, the highest rate in the world.
As the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak has spread from New York to the South and West, federal, state and local officials have clashed over how to ease lockdowns imposed on Americans and businesses.
Requirements that residents wear masks in public have become the subject of a fierce political divide, as many conservatives argue that such orders violate the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who has rejected a nationwide mask rule and been reluctant to wear one himself, this week reversed course and encouraged Americans to do so.
“We have to do our mitigation steps: wear a mask, avoid the crowds. We won’t see hospitalizations and deaths go down for a couple of weeks because (they are) lagging indicators, but we are turning that tide,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told the Fox News Network in an interview.
Giror also pushed for faster test results and Quest Diagnostics Inc, one of the nation’s biggest medical testing companies, said on Thursday it expects to cut week-long turnaround times for COVID-19 tests by more than half to get to “acceptable” levels by September.
Trump also said he would no longer be holding a large gathering in Florida in August to accept the Republican Party’s nomination, after a spike in coronavirus cases in the state.
“The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said in a White House press briefing. “It’s just not right with what’s happened recently, the flare up in Florida. To have a big convention it’s not the right time.”
The event, initially slated to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, had been moved to Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina’s governor refused to guarantee Trump could hold a large event in the state.
Trump added he would still give a convention speech but “in a different form” and said there were plans for so-called “telerallies” during the week.
Another partisan point of contention is whether schools should fully reopen for the fall term despite concerns that doing so could cause another spike in infections.
In Florida, the state teachers’ union has sued to stop in-class instruction. Florida reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths on Thursday at 173.
Florida’s health commissioner said earlier this month that schools must reopen, but Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has since said that parents should have the option to keep their children home.
Trump, who has said he could withhold federal funding from school districts that defy his recommendation to reopen, said on Wednesday that the decision would ultimately be up to governors.
Administration officials have said a quicker reopening is essential to get the cratering economy moving again, a central plank of Trump’s re-election campaign.
Trump has been holding his first coronavirus briefings in months without the experts on his task force, including Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci, who became a household name in the early days of the pandemic, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday on Opening Day of the truncated Major League Baseball season at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Trump’s rival for the presidency, Democrat Joe Biden, blasted his handling of the pandemic in a video aired on Thursday.
The video took the form of a staged conversation between Biden and former President Barack Obama, in which the two men discussed what they characterized as a failure by Trump to take responsibility for solving the crisis.
“Can you imagine standing up when you were president, saying, ‘It’s not my responsibility?'” Biden asked Obama.
“Those words didn’t come out of our mouths when we were in office,” Obama replied.