MIAMI (AP) — California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida together reported about 36,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as restrictions aimed at combating the spread of the pandemic took hold in the United States and around the world in an unsettling sign reminiscent of the dark days of April.
The soaring counts of confirmed infections and a mounting death toll led the mayor of Los Angeles to declare that the nation's second-largest city is on the verge of resorting to a shutdown of all but essential businesses. More school districts made plans to start the fall semester without on-site instruction, and the 2021 Rose Parade in California was canceled.
Other events went ahead undeterred. Thousands of auto-racing fans gathered at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee for a NASCAR event. Officials allowed 30,000 at the track, and the event marked the largest sporting event since the pandemic began four months ago. Disney World moved forward with the rolling opening of its Florida theme parks.
California, Arizona, Florida and Texas reported a total of more than 450 new deaths. Alabama reported a pandemic-high one-day total of 40 deaths, and officials said the state will begin requiring face masks.
Two weeks after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered most of the state’s 30 million residents to wear masks, Texas is still scrambling to contain one of the biggest coronavirus surges in the U.S., and Abbott is stressing that the widespread use of face coverings could avoid another lockdown —- one he hasn’t ruled out. On Wednesday, Texas again set a new high with nearly 10,800 new cases, along with a record 110 deaths.
The rising toll includes 35 deaths that officials on the Texas-Mexico border said happened Wednesday morning alone in Hidalgo County. That was more than twice the number of new deaths reported in Harris County — which has five times the population — and where Texas' largest school district decided that Houston public schools would not only postpone the first day of class but conduct the first six weeks of learning online.
“For those people who think this virus is a joke, that it’s made up, not real, that it’s not having an impact, I want you to take a look at that chart,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, waving to a graphic listing biographical details about the new deaths.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock required masks at indoor public spaces and at larger outdoor gatherings in counties where four or more people are known to have COVID-19. The Democrat's order came as the state reported a record number of new confirmed cases.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine, who has faced criticism from fellow Republicans over business closures, gave a televised address with an emotional appeal to residents to make sacrifices to protect their neighbors. But he stopped short of mandating masks.
Among the sternest measures were in New York, where Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo added to a list totaling 22 states whose visitors will be required to quarantine for two weeks if they visit the tri-state region. Out-of-state travelers arriving in New York airports from those states face a $2,000 fine and a mandatory quarantine order if they fail to fill out a tracing form.
The broad reach of the virus has brought scrutiny to governors' decisions. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a first-term Republican governor who has backed one of the country's most aggressive reopening plans, became the first U.S. governor to announce that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He plans to quarantine at home.
Stitt, who has resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself, attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there.
Florida broke the 300,000 barrier on confirmed cases Wednesday, reporting 10,181 new ones as its daily average death rate continues to rise. Major cities in Florida have imposed mask rules, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a state-wide order, arguing those are best decided on and enforced locally.
Still, on Tuesday the governor wore a mask while speaking publicly for the first time — at a round-table news conference with Miami-Dade County mayors.
Dr. Nicholas Namias, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, said diminishing bed capacity is creating problems at the Miami medical center. He described the issue as being the topic of daily strategy meetings to figure out which beds the hospital can convert to COVID-19 care.
“We’re getting to the point where it’s going to be full. We have gridlock and we won’t be able to take patients and they’ll just be stacked in the ERs,” Namias said.
Businesses imposed their own restrictions, too, with Walmart becoming the largest U.S. retailer to require customers to wear face coverings at all of its Sam’s Club and namesake stores.
Coronavirus cases have surged to record levels in the Los Angeles area, putting the nation’s largest county in “an alarming and dangerous phase” that if not reversed could overwhelm intensive care units and usher in more sweeping closures, health officials said Wednesday.
The situation is so uncertain organizers of the 2021 Rose Parade in Pasadena canceled the New Year's Day tradition for the first time in 75 years out of concern that even six months from now infections could spread among participants and the hundreds of thousands who line the route.
That move came two days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom shut bars and indoor dining statewide, and ordered closures of hair salons, gyms, malls and other indoor businesses in Los Angeles and other counties experiencing the most significant surge of virus cases. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti warned authorities were “on the verge” of resorting to shutting down all but essential businesses.
Statewide there were 11,126 new confirmed cases of the virus on Wednesday and 140 deaths, the second-highest one-day totals. Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state’s population, reported 2,758 more confirmed cases and 44 deaths. The county’s overall death total is just under 4,000 — well over half California’s total of about 7,200.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said further restrictions are “on the table” if trend lines continue to show that hospitals could become overwhelmed.
Other countries, meanwhile, imposed lockdowns and implemented new health checks at their borders.
Starting Wednesday, all travelers arriving in Greece from a land border with Bulgaria were required to carry negative coronavirus test results issued in the previous 72 hours. The new rules, which follow an increase in tourism-related COVID-19 cases, triggered an immediate drop in arrivals compared to recent days.
After the border restrictions Greece imposed Wednesday, traffic at the crossing fell by about half, authorities said, but waiting times were still lengthy and a line of cars and trucks was over 500 meters (yards) long as the number of tests carried out by medical teams at the border were increased.
Gergana Chaprazova, 51, from Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria, planned to visit the Greek seaside town of Kavala with her husband, and complained that she was being tested again.
“I have to wait for a test but I (already) have a test from Bulgaria. I don’t understand why I must have a test here,” she told The Associated Press.
The developments come as more than than 13 million coronavirus cases were confirmed worldwide, with over 578,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are thought to be far higher due to a number of reasons including limited testing.
Romania, citing the rising number of infections, announced a 30-day extension for a nationwide state of alert. Measures include mandatory face masks on public transportation and in shops, while restaurants may only serve customers in outdoor locations. The country set a record for new infections on Saturday.
Residents of Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, were warned Wednesday to comply with lockdown regulations or face tougher restrictions. Melbourne’s 5 million people and part of the city’s semi-rural surroundings are a week into a new, six-week lockdown to contain a new outbreak there.
“The time for warnings, the time for cutting people slack, is over,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. “Where we are is in a very serious and deadly position.”
In Serbia, which has been hit hard by a spike in infections and anti-government protests, a government crisis team expanded a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people from Belgrade to encompass the entire country. Masks were also made mandatory in public spaces where there is no opportunity for 6 feet (1.5 meters) of distancing, such as in shops and bus stations.
Renewed restrictions also took effect in Hong Kong, with public gatherings limited to four people, restaurants restricted to takeout after 6 p.m., and a one-week closure for gyms, karaoke bars, and selected other businesses. Masks were mandated on public transit for the first time, with the non-compliant being fined.
After a surge in daily infections beginning last month, Israel moved last week to reimpose restrictions, closing events spaces, live show venues, bars and clubs. It has imposed lockdowns on areas with high infection rates, which in some cases sparked protests from residents.
Officials warned that if case numbers don’t come down in the coming days, Israel will have no choice but to lock the entire country down again, as it did in the spring.
“I don’t see what other tools we have aside from a lockdown,” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Israeli news site Ynet. “Unless there is a miracle.”
South Africa is already showing signs of being overwhelmed by the pandemic — an ominous outlook for the rest of the continent of 1.3 billion people.
A ban on alcohol sales and a night curfew were reimposed this week to reduce the volume of trauma patients to hospitals that are struggling to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients.
One result was more economic pain in a country which already has a high unemployment rate of 30%.
“This return to the booze ban is causing havoc to the restaurant business, and it’s causing people to lose jobs,” said Gerald Elliot, owner of a popular Johannesburg restaurant, Ba Pita, which he said closed as a result of the restrictions, with a loss of 28 jobs.
“You can look down our street and see several restaurants that are shut. It looks like they are closed permanently.”
Tucker reported from Washington. Kantouris reported from Promachonas, Greece. AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.