By Jake Coyle and Terry Spencer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. climbed to an all-time high of more than 50,000 on Thursday, with the infection curve rising in 40 out of 50 states in a reversal that has largely spared only the Northeast.
In another alarming indicator, 36 states are seeing an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus.
“I think we are going to be in a very difficult situation for at least a month,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University, in one of the hardest-hit states.
The surge has been blamed in part on Americans not wearing masks or following other social distancing rules as states lifted their lockdowns over the past few weeks.
The U.S. recorded 50,700 new cases, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That represents a doubling of the daily total over the past month and is higher even than what the country witnessed during the most lethal phase of the crisis in April and May, when the New York metropolitan area was easily the worst hot spot in the nation.
All but 10 states are showing an increase in newly reported cases over the past 14 days, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization. The outbreaks are most severe in Arizona, Texas and Florida, which together with California have re-closed or otherwise clamped back down on bars, restaurants and movie theaters over the past week or so.
Nebraska and South Dakota were the only states outside the Northeast with a downward trend in cases.
While some of the increases may be explained by expanded testing, other indicators are grim, too, including hospitalizations and positive test rates. Over the past two weeks, the percentage of positive tests has doubled in Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Ohio. In Nevada, it has tripled. In Idaho, it is five times higher.
The surge comes as Americans head into a Fourth of July holiday that health officials warn could add fuel to the outbreak by drawing big crowds. Many municipalities have canceled fireworks displays. Beaches up and down California and Florida have been closed.
Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases for the first time Thursday. That is six times higher than the daily count of less than a month ago. The state also reported 67 deaths for the second time in a week and 325 new hospitalizations, one of the biggest 24-hour jumps in Florida yet.
“I’m discouraged because we didn’t act fast enough to shut things down, and we could have done a much better job getting a handle on the virus,” said Megan Archer, a 39-year-old woman from West Palm who lost her job with a county parks department during the outbreak.
Florida International’s Trepka said she is especially concerned about Fourth of July parties.
“The behavior of people this week will be very critical,” she said. “People really have to avoid congregating in groups and be sure to wear masks.”
Meanwhile, the government reported that U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June as the economy added a solid 4.8 million jobs. But that figure may be outdated: The data was collected during the second week of June, before many states began to backtrack on restarting their economies.
Several Northeastern states have seen new infections slow down significantly, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey, which allowed its Atlantic City casinos to reopen Thursday, though with no smoking, drinking or eating.
Pennsylvania, an outlier among Northeastern states, reported its highest one-day total of new cases since May, with more than 830, over one-quarter of them in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday seemed confident the virus would soon subside, telling Fox Business: “I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
The U.S. has reported at least 2.7 million cases and more than 128,000 dead, the highest toll in the world. Globally there have been 10.7 million confirmed cases and over 517,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins’ count. The true toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of limited testing and mild cases that have been missed.
Other countries are also reporting record numbers of cases.
South Africa recorded more than 8,100 new cases, a one-day record. The country has the most cases in Africa, more than 159,000, as it loosens what had been one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
“We have now entered a new and treacherous phase in the life cycle of this pandemic,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa warned in a broadcast to the nation.
India, the world’s second-most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, surpassed 600,000 infections on Thursday after over 19,000 new cases were reported. India has reported nearly 100,000 new cases in the past four days alone.
Many industries and businesses have reopened across India, though schools, colleges and movie theaters are still closed.
On the medical front, the World Health Organization said that smoking is linked to a higher risk of severe illness and death from the coronavirus in hospitalized patients, although it was unable to specify exactly how much greater the danger might be.
Associated Press’ Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale; Cara Anna in Johannesburg; and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report. Coyle reported from New York.