The three biggest states in the US sunbelt recorded their largest single-day increase in coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, an alarming indication the latest outbreak could lead to another surge in fatalities.
The 120 deaths reported by Florida on Thursday was more than double the 48 recorded the day before, and California tallied 149 fatalities, up from 119 on Wednesday. Texas had 105, the second day in a row of a record-setting increase.
Wall Street sold off sharply after Florida released its latest data during the trading day, reflecting increased nervousness among investors that some of the US’s most populous states may have to reverse economic reopening measures.
Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert, told the Wall Street Journal that states with large-scale outbreaks should “seriously look at shutting down” again.
The benchmark S&P 500 index fell 1.7 per cent in morning trading before paring losses in the afternoon to close down 0.6 per cent on the day.
The White House has sought to temper concerns about the outbreak in southern and western states by noting that it has not been accompanied by a rise in deaths, suggesting that most of the new cases were in younger patients who had survived infections at higher rates.
But nationwide deaths this week had risen to about 900 a day by Tuesday and Wednesday, after trending lower for weeks.
Arizona reported 75 fatalities on Thursday, more than double the day before. The Arizona tally brings its seven-day average to almost 68, the highest it has been during the pandemic.
President Donald Trump has insisted that the rising number of cases was due to more widespread testing, despite hospitalisations hitting their highest levels since mid-May on Wednesday with 43,000 cases and the rising death toll.
“[T]he reason we show so many Cases, compared to other countries that haven’t done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. “We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, Cases would be half, etc.”
Federal officials have cited other data showing that some of the lockdown measures implemented in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California may be slowing the latest outbreak.
The mortality rate in Florida was 1.77 per cent of all cases, down from about 4.3 per cent a month ago and its lowest since April. The number of positive tests reported each day has also fallen from a recent peak of 11,458 on July 4. On Thursday, the state’s health department reported an increase of 8,935 from the previous day.
Mike Pence, US vice-president, said on Wednesday that there had been early indications that “mitigation efforts” were helping to slow the spread of coronavirus in areas where cases have climbed, noting that positivity rates in Florida, Arizona and Texas were flattening.
Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said data from Florida signalled that the number of daily infections in the state might be stabilising.