WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - One person in the United States died about every minute from Covid-19 on Wednesday (July 29) as the national death toll surpassed 150,000, the highest in the world.
The United States recorded 1,456 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest one-day increase since 1,484 on May 27, according to a Reuters tally, bringing total deaths to 151,229.
US coronavirus deaths are rising at their fastest rate in two months and have increased by 10,000 in the past 11 days. Total cases stand at 4.4 million.
Nationally, Covid-19 deaths have risen for three weeks in a row while the number of new cases week-over-week recently fell for the first time since June.
A spike in infections in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas this month has overwhelmed hospitals.
The rise has forced states to make a U-turn on reopening economies that were restricted by lockdowns in March and April to slow the spread of the virus.
Texas leads the nation with nearly 4,300 deaths so far this month, followed by Florida with 2,900 and California, the most populous state, with 2,700.
The Texas figure includes a backlog of hundreds of deaths after the state changed the way it counted Covid-19 fatalities.
While deaths have rapidly risen in July in these three states, New York and New Jersey still lead the nation in total lives lost and for deaths per capita, according to a Reuters tally.
Of the 20 countries with the biggest outbreaks, the United States ranks sixth for deaths per capita, at 45 fatalities per 100,000 people. It is exceeded by the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Peru and Chile.
The pace of infections has accelerated since the US death toll passed 100,000 on May 27.
The epicentre has also moved, to the South and West from the area around New York, which still has by far the highest toll for one state at more than 32,000.
California, Florida and Texas reported record increases in Covid-19 deaths for a second day in a row on Wednesday, according to the Reuters tally.
California had 185 fatalities in the past 24 hours and Florida reported 217 new deaths. Texas had at least 311 deaths with some counties yet to report.
Only two other states, New York and New Jersey, have ever reported more than 300 deaths in a single day.
The three states - the most populous in the country representing 27 per cent of US population - have the largest outbreaks, eclipsing the previous US epicentres of New York and New Jersey.
Coronavirus deaths are rising in 27 states, up from 23 states a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis of deaths the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.
The rising numbers have crushed early hopes the country was past the worst of an economic crisis that has decimated businesses and put millions of Americans out of work.
Health experts have been saying for months that the US outbreak could be brought under control if guidelines to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public were followed everywhere.
Such measures became a hot partisan issue after President Donald Trump, who initially played down the seriousness of the health crisis after the first US case in January, refused to wear a mask.
Trump has since come around to supporting masks but has still not imposed a national mandate requiring them.
Florida commercial pilot Rob Koreman, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, said he had been stunned by the climbing numbers in his state.
"I'm a pilot and hit so many cities, so many people on board, I have to be aware," he said.
"Basically, none of this should have happened. We needed state coordination, if not flat-out a federal mandate."
Louie Gohmert, a Republican lawmaker from Texas who has refused to wear a mask in the past, tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, raising concerns that other members of Congress may also have been exposed.
Attorney-General William Barr, who testified to a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that Gohmert took part in, will be tested for coronavirus as a result, a Justice Department spokesman said.
In a video posted to Twitter, Gohmert said he had worn a face mask frequently in the past week or two, including at Tuesday's hearing.
Officials in New Jersey, the state with the second highest death toll, again pleaded with young people to avoid large gatherings that have been a breeding ground for the virus.
Governor Phil Murphy singled out some parties that have led to clusters of new cases.
"Coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors. Crowded indoor house parties are not smart or safe," he wrote on Twitter.
With the scheduled reopening of schools days away in some states, the Trump administration is pushing for students to return to classrooms, while some teachers and local officials have called for learning to remain online.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), whose forecasts are closely watched by policymakers including the White House, first predicted in March that the pandemic could kill more than 81,000 by July after easing in June.
In its latest statement on July 14, the IHME said its model now projects the US death toll at more than 224,000 by Nov 1.
It also said that number was not set in stone.
"Use of masks is up, but not as high as it should be. If 95 per cent of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes, infection rates would drop, hospitalisations would drop, and forecast deaths would drop," the IHME said.