Masks and schools reopening spark political, legal battles in US as coronavirus cases surge

WION Web Team
New York, New York, United States of America Published: Jul 18, 2020, 06:02 AM(IST)

Coronavirus in USA Photograph:( AFP )

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The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicentre, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday. Coronavirus is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the country including Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Divided US citizens dug further into debates over mask mandates and schools reopening on Friday, even as health authorities reported 77,638 new infections in 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The country also recorded 927 deaths in one day. The number of patients hospitalised for the virus is at its highest level since April 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Experts believe the United States never emerged from its first wave of infections, and cases have been surging again in recent weeks, particularly across the south and west in states that pushed to lift lockdown restrictions early.

The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicentre, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday.

Coronavirus is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the country including Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi.

But New York, the original US epicentre where more than 32,000 virus patients have died, moved to further ease its restrictions after bringing its outbreak under control. 

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered a statewide mask order after seeing cases surge, but he has been condemned through censure resolutions passed by multiple local Republican officials. They accuse him of violating the party's principles of separation of powers, free enterprise and personal responsibility, according to The Texas Tribune.

Also read | In coronavirus-hit Texas and Arizona, refrigerated trucks are being used to store dead

The Democratic mayor of Houston, the state's largest city, wants to move back into lockdown but the governor refuses.

Many sheriffs -- who are often elected officials -- in California, North Carolina and elsewhere have said they won't enforce mask regulations in their counties.

In the state of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta's mayor to prevent her from mandating masks, while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, leader of the country's third largest school district, unveiled a plan to offer both in-person and remote instruction over the objection of the teachers' union.

With school set to resume in a few weeks, school districts across the country have announced a variety of plans to restart teaching amid the pandemic.

One nurse on the front lines, however, begged schools not to call students back to class and decried a lack of personal protective equipment at her hospital, where she said at least six of her co-workers had tested positive for COVID-19.

More than 1,200 medical professionals, including 161 nurses, have died from the coronavirus in the United States, according to the National Nurses United union.

Also read | US leads in 'vaccine nationalism' as coronavirus engulfs the world

Public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infection amid a wider cultural divide in the United States.

Videos on social media show people across the country irately declaring their right to shop or congregate in public without masks, with many disputing evidence that masks are effective.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Friday said he "would urge the leaders - the local political leaders in states and cities and towns - to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks."

States enacted lockdowns in patchwork fashion, and several skipped important epidemiological checkpoints before easing stay-at-home orders, said Fauci.

On the other hand, US President Donald Trump has said he would not issue an order at the national level mandating the use of masks.

When asked during a Fox News interview if he would consider issuing a national mask mandate to slow the spread of the virus, Trump said: "No, I want people to have a certain freedom and I don't believe in that, no."

"I don't agree with the statement that if everyone wore a mask, everything disappears," the president added.

Subsequently, many have been forced to pause re-opening, re-closing bars but also sometimes gyms, movie theatres, places of worship and shops.

Through it all however, President Donald Trump has urged a return to normal, stressing the importance of reigniting the economy while sometimes rejecting the advice of public health advisers. He and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity following pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Trump's ratings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic.

Also read | Facebook's Zuckerberg lashes out at Trump's coronavirus response during live stream chat with Fauci

Only 38 per cent of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis, against 51 per cent in March, according to a Washington Post poll published Friday.

The task force briefings featuring Trump were halted in late April amid mounting criticism over his exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the public health response and his penchant for pushing bogus treatments.

(with inputs from agencies)

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