ATLANTA: The Republican governors of three US states dealing with surging COVID-19 outbreaks sparred on Tuesday (Jul 21) with local officials over tighter counter-measures, as California closed in on surpassing New York in total cases.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said Hidalgo county could not order residents to stay home and said mask and social distancing rules were sufficient to keep businesses open in the Rio Grande Valley, on the US border with Mexico.
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has sought to prevent Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from enforcing an order that residents wear masks in public.
A court hearing on Kemp's lawsuit against Bottoms, a Democrat who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, was postponed after two judges recused themselves.
In Florida, the state teachers' union has sued Governor Ron DeSantis and other officials to halt his plans to reopen school classrooms despite a surge of more than 10,000 daily new COVID-19 cases for six out of the last seven days.
On average last week, 19 per cent of Florida's tests for the virus came back positive, indicating widespread community transmission in the state. Deaths have climbed 45 per cent week-over-week.
"I think it's much better today than it was two weeks ago. And I think it will continue to improve," DeSantis said at a briefing on Tuesday, adding that hospitals were seeing plateaus in patient numbers.
About 20 per cent of Florida's intensive care unit beds are available, 5 per cent more than two weeks ago, after hospitals expanded capacity. The number of currently hospitalised coronavirus patients fell on Tuesday after rising to record highs at least nine days in a row, state data showed.
CALIFORNIA REACHES 400,000 CASES
Neither Florida nor Georgia have issued statewide mask mandates. In Texas, Abbott initially resisted such an order but earlier this month agreed to require face coverings in most counties.
In Hidalgo County, cases have risen 59 per cent in the last week to nearly 13,000 total. In just one week, deaths have doubled to over 300, according to a Reuters tally.
California on Tuesday became the second US state after New York to report more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak was first detected in the United States in January, according to a Reuters tally of county data.
New York - the epicentre of the pandemic earlier this year - has recorded by far the most deaths of any US state at 32,218, followed by New Jersey at 15,737. California has reported more than 7,700 deaths.
New York has eased its lockdown restrictions after managing to bring the virus under control. It now has one of the nation's lowest infection rates and reported just two coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday.
Mandatory mask wearing, which public health officials say can slow the spread of the virus, has become a political issue among Americans, with many conservatives calling such rules a violation of their Constitutional rights.
The clashes between local leaders and their governors comes as coronavirus deaths nationally rise for a second consecutive week and cases climb for a seventh week in a row.
At least 16 states have reported record levels of currently hospitalised COVID-19 patients in July, and cases have set single-day records in 32 states this month, according to a Reuters tally.
Against the backdrop of rising cases and deaths, as well as falling poll numbers over his handling of the pandemic, US President Donald Trump was expected to give an upbeat briefing on Tuesday afternoon, focusing on his accomplishments and positive developments on treatments and vaccines.
The United States has the world's highest number of reported COVID-19 deaths at over 141,000, nearly a quarter of the global total.
Congress is negotiating another coronavirus relief bill to help deal with the pandemic and blunt the economic pain it has caused.