WASHINGTON, July 2 (Reuters) – After days of record spikes in new COVID-19 cases and hospitals warning they could run out of beds, President Donald Trump’s White House on Thursday sought to convey that all was well in the battle against the coronavirus and touted efforts to get the U.S. economy moving again.
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
Florida reported more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the biggest one-day increase in the state since the pandemic started. That followed a spike in the number of cases nationwide to nearly 50,000 on Wednesday, the fourth record rise in infections in the last seven days.
The United States has now reported more than 128,000 coronavirus-related deaths, nearly a quarter of the global total.
The rising number of cases follows moves in many states to allow businesses to lift strict shutdowns, which have boosted job growth but also appear to have accelerated the spread of the virus as people returned to restaurants, bars and retail businesses.
As the wave of new cases accelerates, some states have paused or scaled back their re-openings, while closing beaches and canceling fireworks displays over the upcoming U.S. Independence Day weekend.
Still, a Labor Department report out Thursday showed the window of re-openings had a dramatic impact on hiring, with the United States creating jobs at a record clip in June.
“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back,” Trump told reporters at the White House, while touting his administration’s efforts to beat back the virus as “a historic thing.”
The data showing a gain of 4.8 million jobs does not reflect that governors of states hit hardest by new infections have halted or reversed moves to re-open in recent days.
The latest batch of high-frequency data assembled by Federal Reserve officials, economists, cellphone tracking companies, and employee time management firms suggests economic activity stalled in recent days.
“More than ever, we’re concerned about the worsening health situation and its impact on the burgeoning recovery. Rebounding mobility and poor use of protective equipment will make for a dangerous summer cocktail,” Oxford Economics analyst Gregory Daco wrote.
‘ACT. LEAD. OR GET OUT OF THE WAY’
Employment remains 14.7 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels.
A strong economy is an important plank of Trump’s campaign for re-election in November. Joe Biden, his expected Democratic opponent, slammed Trump’s comments on Thursday.
“Quit claiming victory with almost 15 million Americans still out of work because of the crisis. Quit ignoring the reality of this pandemic and the horrifying loss of American life,” Biden said in a speech. “Act. Lead. Or get out of the way so others can, Mr. President.”
Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended a Trump rally last month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite warnings of the health risks, has been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to his Twitter account. The statement did not say where he was infected.
Eight members of the campaign’s advance staff who were in Tulsa for the June 20 rally have tested positive for the virus.
Asked if the White House regretted encouraging states to reopen quickly, and if the move had backfired, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “Absolutely not… There is a safe way to reopen the economy and we are going to do that carefully.”
Several states have reported record increases in new cases in the past week, including Arizona, Alaska, Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.
Parts of Texas and Arizona are running out of available intensive care hospital beds, officials have said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday closed bars, banned indoor dining and imposed other restrictions in 19 counties, including Los Angeles, affecting over 70% of the most populous U.S. state.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was due to visit Florida on Thursday, said he and Trump supported governors who are pausing re-openings. But he said he saw no need for a national mandate for people to wear masks, which public health officials see as an easy way to significantly decrease virus transmission.
Conservatives have generally been less willing to wear masks or follow other restrictions imposed by local authorities to stop the spread of the virus, as the issue has become increasingly politicized.
Kansas on Thursday followed several other states in requiring face coverings, most recently Indiana. Kansas had a 46.1% spike in coronavirus infections last week.
“Wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to keep Kansans healthy and keep Kansas open for business,” Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Alexandra Aleper, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu, Timothy Ahmann, Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Bill Berkrot)