US holiday weekend adds to virus worries as case counts grow

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Marvin Turcios

Marvin Turcios puts out American flags at Ocean’s 10 restaurant on Miami Beach, Florida’s famed Ocean Drive on South Beach, July 4, 2020. The Fourth of July holiday weekend began Saturday with some sobering numbers in the Sunshine State: Florida logged a record number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Florida reported a record number of coronavirus cases on Saturday, the latest sign that the virus is surging in many parts of the United States, casting a pall over Fourth of July celebrations.

Officials and health authorities warned people to take precautions or simply stay home on Independence Day, as confirmed cases are climbing in 40 states. The U.S. set another daily record Friday with more than 54,000 newly reported infections, according to numbers kept by Johns Hopkins University. The daily toll reported Saturday also passed 50,000.

The U.S. has more than 2.8 million confirmed cases — about a quarter of worldwide infections, according to the tally, which is widely thought to understate the true toll, partially because of asymptomatic cases and limited testing.

Florida reported 11,445 confirmed infections on Saturday, bringing the statewide total to more than 190,000.

Alabama this week also set a record for infections reported in a day, with more than 1,700 confirmed cases recorded Thursday, and state health officials worried that the holiday weekend could lead to the type of spike that followed Memorial Day weekend.

“I’m really, really worried about the Fourth of July,” said Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association. “I think that will likely determine the trend for Alabama for the rest of the summer.”

The sobering updates came as local officials and health experts across the country tried to minimize opportunities for the virus to continue spreading on a holiday weekend typically spent swimming, eating at backyard gatherings or crowding elbow-to-elbow to view parades and fireworks shows.

Many communities canceled those events and cautioned people against gathering on their own.

In Florida, bars statewide are shut down and some regional attractions, such as Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, have closed. Officials in South Florida — including in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys — closed beaches through the weekend.

Other beaches in the state remained open. At St. Pete Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, parking spaces were scarce Saturday afternoon and hundreds of people clustered in groups under umbrellas and in cabanas on the sand.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies patrolled on ATVs, telling folks they should stay with their own families or groups — and away from others.

Keisha Pereira came to the beach from Osceola County — about 100 miles (160 kilometers) inland — with her daughter and two other children and said the group planned to stay away from others. She brought along hand sanitizer and masks in case they go anywhere other than the beach.

“We’re going to stay with each other,” she said. “I feel pretty safe outside.”

In several of California’s tourism-focused counties, economic woes prompted campaigns to convince state residents to travelwithin its borders. But public health experts and mayors of popular beach towns Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay have pleaded with people to stay home for the holiday.

Crista Luedtke said demand has been “bonkers” since reopening the 14-room Boon Hotel and Spa that she owns in the Sonoma County town of Guerneville. Guests must stay at least two nights and are assigned chaise lounges near the pool.

“Tourism is not dangerous,” Luedtke said. “I think people not following the rules is dangerous.”

The holiday weekend coincides with a big step back this week for California’s efforts to reopen the state’s economy. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a three-week closure of bars and many indoor establishments in counties that are home to about three-quarters of the state’s population.

Local efforts to discourage holiday gatherings are in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s weekend agenda, including a fireworks display Friday night at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Saturday’s “Salute for America” celebration set to include a presidential speech on the White House South Lawn and an enormous fireworks display that could pack people into downtown Washington in the evening.

In Britain on Saturday, some signs of normalcy returned with pubs and barbers reopening for the first time in months.

But other countries continued to report record highs in new confirmed cases, including South Africa and India. In Australia and northeast Spain, authorities ordered lockdowns for specific counties or communities aimed at stomping out increases in cases.

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Chandler reported from Montgomery, Alabama, and Foody from Chicago. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.

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This story has been updated to correct that the daily U.S. infection toll reported Friday was more than 54,000, not 52,300.

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