The United States has dipped under 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts fear celebrations for the July 4th Independence Day weekend will act like rocket fuel for the nation’s surging outbreak.
Johns Hopkins counted 45,300 new coronavirus infections in the U.S. on Saturday after three days in which the daily count reached as high as 54,500 new cases. The lower figure on Saturday does not necessarily mean the situation in the U.S. is improving, as it could be due to reduced reporting on a national holiday.
The United States has the most infections and virus-related deaths in the world, with 2.8 million cases and nearly 130,000 dead, according to the university. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic is significantly higher, due to people who died before they were tested and missed mild cases.
To show just how steep the current infection curve is in the U.S., the country was reporting under 20,000 new infections a day as recently as June 15.
Despite warnings by health experts to limit gatherings, President Donald Trump went ahead with a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday and an evening of tribute and fireworks Saturday on the National Mall in Washington.
Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:
Texas Leaders Warn of Hospital Capacity, Ask for Lockdowns
Leaders in two of Texas’ biggest cities are calling on the governor to empower local governments to order residents to stay home as the state’s continued surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus tests hospital capacity.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that he wants Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott to return control to local governments. He says hospitals are facing a crisis and that ICUs could be overrun in 10 days.
In the Houston area, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is also a Democrat, says a stay-at-home order is needed.
Texas reported its highest daily increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday with 8,258.
Californians Mostly Avoid Beaches Over Weekend
Californians mostly heeded warnings to stay away from beaches and other public spaces during the long weekend.
State officials urged social distancing amid a spike in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
Many communities canceled July 4 fireworks shows and other annual festivities — changes that appeared to successfully keep crowds at bay. However big waves at Southern California beaches proved irresistible to some surfers.
California reported 6,500 additional confirmed cases of the virus on Saturday. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
West Virginia Sees Biggest 2-Day Jump in Virus Cases
West Virginia has experienced its biggest two-day jump in confirmed coronavirus cases, according to health statistics released Sunday.
The Department of Health and Human Resources website showed an increase of 76 positive cases on Sunday and 118 on Saturday. West Virginia has seen a 16% jump in confirmed cases over the past week and a 30% increase in the past two weeks, the statistics showed.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday he would decide by early this week whether he will order that face masks be worn inside buildings and when social distancing isn’t possible. The governor had lifted most virus restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.
At least 95 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and more than 3,300 have tested positive since the outbreak began.
Hutchinson Will Insist on Masks if Trump Rallies in Arkansas
Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says if President Donald Trump were to hold a campaign rally in his Trump-friendly state, people will need to wear masks.
Hutchinson says he would expect people to follow his state’s health guidelines by practicing social distancing or wearing masks if unable to do so.
He says he understands the value of having national Fourth of July celebrations such as at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and that there is some “virus fatigue,” but that people should have been wearing face coverings to “set an example.”
Trump won Arkansas in 2016 with over 60% of the vote.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, says he’d like to see a national strategy on the coronavirus, including a mask requirement. He says his state is seeing “small spikes in reinfection” from residents coming back from Florida, South Carolina and other virus hotspots, and the U.S. is “as strong as our weakest link right now.”
Trump has recently held campaign-style events in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Phoenix and Washington D.C. where he and many rally attendees didn’t wear masks.
Hutchinson and Murphy spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Florida Reaches Grim Coronavirus Milestone
Florida health officials say the state has reached a grim milestone: more than 200,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19.
State statistics released Sunday show about 10,000 new people tested positive. Saturday’s numbers — more than 11,400 cases — marked a record new single-day high. More than 3,700 people have died.
About 43% of the cases are in three counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that the high numbers of positive tests both in his county and the state are “extremely worrisome.”
Suarez, who had the virus in March, says it’s clear the growth is “exponential at this point” and officials are closely monitoring hospitalizations. They’re also closely watching the death rate, which “give us the impression” that “much stricter” measures have to be taken.
Florida’s death count is the ninth highest in the country overall and the 27th highest per capita at 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 5,323.1, an increase of 184.1%.
FDA Head Rejects Trump's 'Harmless' Coronavirus Claim
The Food and Drug Administration commissioner is declining to back up President Donald Trump’s claim that 99% of coronavirus cases are “harmless.”
Dr. Stephen Hahn tells CNN and ABC that he’s “not going to get into who is right and who is wrong,” but that government data clearly show “this is a serious problem.”
He adds that “any case is tragic” and that to stem the tide of surging cases people should follow government guidance to practice social distancing and wear a mask.
In Fourth of July remarks, Trump said the U.S. was testing too much and falsely asserted that “by so doing, we show cases, 99% of which are totally harmless.”
The World Health Organization in fact has said about 20% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 progress to severe disease, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. Those with mild or no symptoms, meanwhile, could spread the virus to others.
The mayor of Austin, Texas, where COVID-19 cases are surging, called Trump’s remarks “dangerous” and “wrong.” Mayor Steve Adler urged people to listen to local officials for public safety guidance rather than the “ambiguous message coming out of Washington.”
WHO Ending Hydroxycholorquine Trial for COVID
The World Health Organization says it is ending a trial into whether anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helps patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
WHO said Saturday it has “accepted the recommendation” from the committee overseeing the trial to discontinue testing of hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir, a drug combination used to treat HIV/AIDS. The drugs were being compared with standard care for hospitalized patients.
WHO says a review of the interim results showed hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir “produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared to standard of care.”
The agency adds that while there was no “solid evidence” of increased mortality for hospitalized patients given the drugs, there were “some associated safety signals in the clinical laboratory findings” of an associated trial.
WHO says the decision won’t affect possible trials on patients who aren’t hospitalized, or on those receiving the drugs before potential exposure to the coronavirus or shortly afterward.
Jimmie Johnson 1st NASCAR Driver to Test Positive
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss this weekend's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 44-year-old Johnson is the first driver in any NASCAR series to test positive and the news Friday evening cast a shadow over the historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader races coming up Saturday and Sunday. There was no indication any races would be affected.
Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson will not return until he is cleared by a physician. He was tested earlier Friday after his wife, Chani, tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms.
Johnson is asymptomatic.
"My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said. “I’ve never missed a race in my Cup career, but I know it’s going to be very hard to watch from the sidelines when I’m supposed to be out there competing. Although this situation is extremely disappointing, I’m going to come back ready to win races and put ourselves in playoff contention.”
Alabama Health Officials Can't Verify 'COVID Party' Reports
The Alabama Department of Public Health said it could not verify reports of so-called COVID-19 parties where students deliberately tried to become infected, but also warned people not to try it.
Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry told news outlets this week that she heard of students holding parties and wagering over who would become infected.
The department said it could not verify any parties where persons tried to contract COVID-19 but warned that it is a dangerous and sometimes deadly virus.
“Persons should not willfully expose themselves to this virus both for their own health and the health of others,” the department said.
Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith told the City Council on Tuesday that fire officials confirmed some students had attended parties despite knowing they were infected. The department thought the parties were rumors, but Smith said after some research, officials discovered they were real.
The Department of Public Health said people with COVID-19 are to remain in home quarantine and could be fined for violating quarantine.
Florida Adds Nearly 9,500 New Cases, Miami 11-Year-Old Becomes State's Youngest Death
Florida's total number of coronavirus cases pushed closer to 180,000 Friday, with nearly 9,500 new cases reported on Friday, NBC Miami reported.
More than 55,300 of the cases were confirmed just in the past week. The seven-day average for daily fatalities is now back over 40, a 30% increase from two weeks ago.
Among those who died this week was Miami 11-year-old Daequan Wimberly, the state's youngest COVID-19-related fatality.
“I would just like for the world to know how he loved everybody," his father Jerry Wimberly, now hospitalized with COVID-19 himself, told NBC Miami.
Miami-Dade is the state's hardest-hit country and announced Thursday it will impose a curfew beginning at 10 p.m. Friday.
Dr. David De La Zerda, who oversees intensive care units at Jackson Health Systems in Miami-Dade, said patients are skewing younger and, in some cases, getting sicker than older patients did during the first influx of COVID patients.
"I do expect things are going to get worse in the next few weeks," he told NBC Miami about the influx of new patients.
Surgeon General Calls for Wearing Face Coverings During Holiday, Won't Advise Against Large Gatherings
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of the higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and spreading the coronavirus at public gatherings.
But Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams wouldn't flat out recommend against attending one, telling NBC's Craig Melvin on TODAY Friday that "every single person needs to make up their own mind."
"There are people going to beaches, going to barbecues, going to different environments and they have to look at their individual risk," Adams said about the July 4 holiday weekend. "As you mentioned, CDC says larger gatherings are a higher risk. You have to take that into account again with whether or not you're at risk, whether you live with someone who is vulnerable and then you have to take measures to stay safe."
Adams said the most important thing people going out could do to protect themselves and others is to wear a face covering.
Three months ago, Adams had downplayed the need for people to wear face coverings. That was "outdated information" and what changed is the knowledge that up to half of virus cases may be spread asymptomatically, Adams said Friday.
Many young people who are not showing symptoms of the virus are now spreading the virus, he said.
"If you want college football in the fall, young people, please wear a face covering," Adams said." If you want prom next year, please wear a face covering."
Still, Adams stopped short of saying that face coverings should be mandated, even at large public gatherings like the fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore that President Donald Trump is set to attend later Friday.
Adams said he wasn't against state and local officials mandating coverings but was concerned that young people, in particular, might disregard being told they have to do so.
"If you make something mandatory, many of them will rebel and do something different," he said.
The comments come as leaders with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, National Retail Federation and other business groups wrote an open letter urging the White House to work with governors on national guidelines for mask mandates in public places, Axios reported.
How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart
This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 10th case.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC
COVID-19 Cases Among Military Service Members on the Rise
US service members are seeing a spike in coronavirus cases, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Defense.
The Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, said COVID-19 spikes in the military are mirroring the spikes seen among civilians in Florida, Texas, and parts of California, NBC San Diego reported.
Military cases rose in June with a 27% increase in infections among service members this past week, according to the Military Times.
As of Thursday, 6,493 active service members have coronavirus, the Department of Defense said. Of the 12,521 total military cases, three have resulted in death. The Army has been the hardest hit among military branches with 3,836 cases.