WASHINGTON • New coronavirus cases rose by more than 69,000 across the United States on Friday, setting a record for the third consecutive day as Walt Disney Co stuck to its plans to reopen its flagship theme park in hard-hit Florida.
A total of nine US states - Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin - also reached records for single-day infections.
In Texas, another hot zone, Governor Greg Abbott warned that he may have to impose new clampdowns if the state cannot stem its record-setting caseloads and hospitalisations through wearing of masks and social distancing.
"If we don't adopt this best practice, it could lead to a shutdown of businesses," the Republican governor told local KLBK-TV on Friday, adding that it was the last thing he wanted.
California announced on Friday the state will release up to 8,000 inmates early from prisons to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the facilities. At San Quentin State Prison, outside San Francisco, half of the facility's roughly 3,300 prisoners have tested positive for the virus.
The Walt Disney Co said the theme parks in Orlando would reopen yesterday to a limited number of guests who, along with employees, would be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. The park cancelled parades, firework displays and events that typically draw crowds.
Disney's chief medical officer said earlier in the week that she believed the rules would allow guests to visit the park safely.
Roughly 19,000 people, including some theme park workers, have signed a petition asking Disney to delay its reopening. The union, representing 750 Walt Disney World performers, has filed a grievance against the company, claiming retaliation against members over a union demand that they be tested for the coronavirus.
Other theme parks reopened in Orlando last month, including Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld.
Florida remains one of the worst hotspots for the virus in the country and is among a handful of states where deaths are rising, based on a Reuters analysis of fatalities in the last two weeks, compared with the prior two weeks.
On Thursday, the state reported a record 120 deaths and added another 92 on Friday. It recorded 11,433 new coronavirus cases on Friday, just short of the state's record, and nearly 7,000 hospitalisations.
Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, the US never emerged from its first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and has since mid-June been experiencing a fresh surge. This is because, although the virus receded in former hotspots like New York, it came back hard in regions where officials eased their lockdowns too early or where citizens widely ignored health advice.
More than four dozen hospitals in Florida have reported that their intensive care units were full.
This month, Florida has repeatedly reported more new daily coronavirus cases than any European country had at the height of their outbreaks.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, angered some residents and medical experts by calling the spike a "blip".
On Friday, Mr DeSantis said the state would receive more than 17,000 vials of the antiviral drug remdesivir from the US government, adding: "That'll be something that will hopefully help to improve patient outcomes."
Former Disney employee Scott Burkee, 43, said Mr DeSantis "has shown zero effort to control the spread".
"He only becomes concerned when (US President Donald) Trump does. The virus is clearly out of control," said Mr Burkee.
Mr Trump, a Republican, travelled to Florida on Friday for an event at the US military's Southern Command and a campaign fundraiser.
He has sparred with officials and teachers' unions over the reopening of schools and said on Friday that the Treasury Department would re-examine the tax-exempt status and funding of those that remain closed.
Mr Trump previously vowed to cut federal funding to schools and eject foreign students attending universities in the US unless their schools offer in-person classes. Most education funds come from state and local coffers.
The number of confirmed US infections is around 3.3 million. More than 136,000 Americans have died. Overall, coronavirus cases are rising in 44 US states.
"When you compare us with other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great," top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said on Thursday.
Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, the US never emerged from its first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and has since mid-June been experiencing a fresh surge.
This is because, although the virus receded in former hotspots like New York, it came back hard in regions where officials eased their lockdowns too early or where citizens widely ignored health advice.
Still, the death rate remains well below levels of earlier peaks in late April and May, partly because there are better treatments available. It also takes several weeks for very sick people to die.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE