PHOENIX (Reuters) - Several U.S. states including Oklahoma reported a surge in new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, days before a planned campaign rally for President Donald Trump in Tulsa that would be the nation’s largest indoor social gathering in three months.
An uptick in coronavirus cases in many states over the past two weeks, along with rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, reflected a troubling national trend that has seen daily U.S. infection numbers climbing after more than a month of declines.
Oklahoma reported a record 259 new cases over the previous 24 hours, while Florida reported more than 2,600 new cases and Arizona more than 1,800 - the second-highest daily increases for those two states.
In Arizona, where doctors, nurses and health administrators called for making face coverings mandatory statewide in public places, Governor Doug Ducey said he would let local officials decide whether to impose such rules and how to enforce them.
“If you do go out, wear a mask. It’s the smart thing to do,” he said.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego immediately tweeted that a vote on a proposed ordinance to require face masks outdoors in the nation’s fifth-largest city would go on the agenda for the city council’s next meeting.
Texas reported 3,100 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, its biggest single-day tally yet, along with another all-time high for COVID-19 hospitalizations - nearly 2,800 patients. That marks the sixth straight day in which the number of patients currently admitted for the highly contagious respiratory virus has reached record numbers in Texas.
While Texas has not reported how many of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients are admitted to intensive care units, 1,500 ICU beds are available statewide, a state website here said.
The daily count of infections also hit a new benchmark in California, with more than 4,000 cases recorded statewide on Wednesday. Los Angeles County alone reported its largest daily increase, over 2,100 new cases, though several hundred were attributed to a backlog in test results released all at once.
Trump’s political team, meanwhile, forged ahead with plans for a campaign rally on Saturday in Tulsa, his first such event since stay-at-home restrictions were imposed across much of the country in March to fight the coronavirus.
Public health experts worry that assembling thousands of shouting, chanting people inside an arena - particularly if many aren’t wearing masks - could turn the rally into a coronavirus “super-spreader event.”
Trump, in a Fox News interview on Wednesday, repeated an assertion he has made in the past that the coronavirus, with or without the advent of a vaccine or new effective treatment, is “fading away.”
“It’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice, and that’s going to happen,” he added.
Trump’s campaign advisers see the rally as a chance to rejuvenate his political base after a string of national and state opinion polls showed the president trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said during a briefing on Wednesday that state officials were doing their utmost to ensure that the event is “safe as possible.”
Oklahoma health officials recommend anyone attending the rally to get tested for the coronavirus before arriving, then to self-isolate afterward and get tested again. The health commissioner urged those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 - senior citizens and people with chronic underlying health conditions - to stay home.
Biden accused Trump of “surrendering” to the coronavirus pandemic and failing to stay prepared for a resurgence that could put a U.S. economic recovery at risk.
In most of the states where cases are spiking, COVID-19 hospitalizations are also rising or at record highs. Unlike increases in new infections, rising hospitalizations cannot simply be attributed to greater testing.
In Arizona, 83% of intensive care beds are occupied, a record high, according to a state website here. The outbreak has alarmed the hard-hit Navajo Nation. The Navajo reservation - overlapping parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico - reinstated a weekend-long curfew that closes even essential businesses like grocery stores and gas stations.
In Florida, some of the increase has been linked to newly reopened bars, making for easy virus transmission. In one case, 16 friends who celebrated a birthday at a bar without wearing masks all tested positive, according to media reports.
Texas has also pointed to bars as one cause of its current outbreak. In Oregon, over 200 new cases were tied to events at a single church.
For the United States as a whole, more than 2.1 million people are known to have been infected to date, including 117,000 who have died from COVID-19, by far the most of any country in the world.
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For a graphic on Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.:
For a graphic on COVID-19 cases surging in Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma:
Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago, Peter Szekely in New York, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Ernest Scheyder in Tusla, Oklahoma, and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Leslie Adler; Editing by Bill Berkrot