Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 2.5 million on Sunday morning as a devastating new wave of infections continued to bear down throughout the country’s South and West.

Florida, Texas and Arizona are fast emerging as the country’s latest epicenters after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row. Positivity rates and hospitalizations have also spiked.

Global cases of COVID-19 exceeded 10 million, according to a count maintained by Johns Hopkins University, a measure of the power and spread of a pandemic that has caused vast human suffering, devastated the world’s economy and still threatens vulnerable populations in rich and poor nations alike.

Texas set a record for coronavirus-related hospitalizations for the 16th day in a row on Saturday, with 5,523 patients being treated. In Arizona, health officials also reported a record, with 2,577 current hospitalizations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday the wearing of face masks should be mandatory nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Sunday bobbed and weaved questions about the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as well as the president’s behavior on masks.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Azar argued, as President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have lately, that the uptick in infections is because of expansive testing of even some asymptomatic cases and tried to focus on fatality numbers, which he said are the lowest in two months.

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump reported, in multiple states, the rate of new cases has increased faster than the rise in the average number of tests.

On NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” Azar repeatedly emphasized that “the window is closing. We have to act. And people as individuals have to act.”

People tested

People wait in line at a free COVID-19 testing site provided by United Memorial Medical Center on Sunday at the Mexican Consulate in Houston. Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Texas continue to surge. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

“This is not about reopening or not reopening. In many communities and states which are just as reopened, we aren’t seeing this … We’ve got to get to the bottom of this,” he said, emphasizing the need for increased testing and contact tracing.

Asked repeatedly whether Trump’s comments and actions have helped promote the things he has been talking about, Azar ducked and stuck to administration attempts to shift focus to people not wearing masks and social distancing during protests.

When pressed again by host Chuck Todd, Azar said, “I’m the president’s secretary of health. I’m telling you to practice social distancing … wear a face covering.” He noted Pence showed up onstage in a face mask last week. As for Trump, Azar said the president is in a unique position “as leader of the free world.” Azar said Trump is “tested constantly” and has issued “presidential guidelines.”

Pence is scheduled to appear Sunday in Dallas, where he is expected to meet with Gov. Greg Abbott and speak at First Baptist Church as Texas confronts a growing number of coronavirus cases.

On Friday, the state scaled back reopening measures as severely ill patients continue to overwhelm hospitals in some parts of Texas. More than 31,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the state since Jun. 21, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign criticized Pence’s trip, saying in a statement that his decision to go ahead with events in Texas “epitomizes the dismissive attitude this administration has taken in addressing this crisis from the onset.”


Tubers prepare to float the Comal River despite the recent spike in COVID-19 cases Thursday in New Braunfels, Texas. Eric Gay/Associated Press

“Our leaders should be tackling this pandemic head on and laying out concrete recovery plans for the American people – not jet setting across the country to hold events that go against basic public health guidance,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said in the statement.

On Friday, during Pence’s first public coronavirus task force briefing in nearly two months, he claimed the United States is making “remarkable progress” in its fight against the virus. He also defended recent campaign rallies, saying, “The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, and we have an election coming up this fall.”

On Sunday, his spokeswoman, Katie Miller, appeared to dispute reports that the vice president would cancel upcoming trips to Arizona and Florida over virus concerns, saying on Twitter that Pence will still travel to both states this week.

Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Sunday that the coronavirus outbreaks in states that eased restrictions – and have since reinstated many of them – will continue to worsen in the next few weeks as figures tend to lag.

Frieden forecast in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that the United States will see at least 15,000 new COVID-19-related deaths in the next several weeks in states that reopened, particularly Southern and Western states. He listed states, including South Carolina, Florida and Texas, that eased restrictions and then experienced recent spikes.

“If you open when cases are still increasing, as many states did, it’s like leaning into a left hook,” Frieden said. “You’re going to get hit hard. And that’s what’s happening.”


Guests dine in-house at a restaurant May 13 in Phoenix. As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Arizona, the governor shows no signs of tightening restrictions such as forcing the use of face masks. Matt York/Associated Press

Although Florida and Texas announced last week that bars in the state would close and localities there have instituted face-mask mandates, Frieden said measures to address the increase in cases won’t immediately lessen the reported infections.

Conflicting with Trump’s claims that increased testing is the reason for the spikes, Frieden told Wallace that the positive cases identified through testing are only “a tip of the iceberg.”

“As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase,” he said. “It is not more tests, it is more spread of the virus.”

Frieden also disputed that the recent trend of younger adults getting infected but not requiring hospitalization is comforting, adding that there is still a risk of community transmission to older and more vulnerable people.

“What starts with the young does not stay with the young,” he said.

As coronavirus infections soar in Houston, the city’s paramedics say they are facing hour-long wait times when transferring patients from the ambulance to the hospital.


Visitors gather on the beach May 24 in Newport Beach, Calif., during the coronavirus outbreak. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña told KHOU that transfer times had doubled or tripled in some cases as the department grapples with spiking calls for service and a shortage of first responders.

“The longer it takes us to service those critical calls, it is going to cost us lives,” he told the news station. “Our system is getting strained.”

Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in Texas since the beginning of the month, with Houston emerging as the state’s epicenter. Harris County, which encompasses the city, raised its coronavirus threat indicator to the highest level last week, sending out an emergency alert saying the outbreak was “severe and uncontrolled.”

Hospital intensive care units at Houston’s Texas Medical Center were hovering near 100 percent capacity, and health officials reported record hospitalizations statewide.

Peña told KHOU that call volumes were 20 percent higher than usual over the past three weeks, with some people calling 911 to report symptoms akin to those of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. At least 560 calls for service resulted in wait times of an hour or more during that period, the fire chief said.

Contributing to the bottleneck, nearly 200 firefighters were in quarantine and more than 50 had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Peña.


Lines of cars wait at a coronavirus testing site outside of Hard Rock Stadium on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fla. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Hospital executives said last week that they were prepared to deal with the influx of patients by scaling back nonessential procedures and freeing up beds elsewhere. But they need the public to take action, too, to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed, said Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist Hospital, which is part of the Texas Medical Center campus.

“The time is now for everybody to dramatically change their behaviors to get this virus under control,” Boom said, “so that our hospitals for the weeks to come are there and able to handle this.”

At least 85 coronavirus cases have been linked to a restaurant near Michigan State University’s campus.

The Ingham County Health Department said most of those infected visited Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub in East Lansing between June 12 and 20. The restaurant, which is popular with college students, announced Monday that it would temporarily close to make public health improvements.

Health officials told the Lansing State Journal on Saturday that contact tracing for those infected has been challenging.

“Unfortunately, due to the nature of a bar setting, they’re not necessarily able to identify everyone who they had prolonged, close conversations with,” health department spokeswoman Amanda Darche told the newspaper.

Darche told The Post that at least 25 of the 80 coronavirus patients identified as having gone to the restaurant are students of Michigan State University. Five cases were secondary, meaning the infection probably spread from contact with someone who went to Harper’s.

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told The Post that because students tend to travel between home and school, cases were reported in 13 counties across the state.

Inspectors found the restaurant was in compliance with local guidelines, such as limiting capacity and spacing tables appropriately, according to a health department news release issued last week. Still, the restaurant said it would close to modify its ventilation system so that air is purified instead of recirculated, according to a Facebook post by the business.

The restaurant also announced it would devise a way to ensure lines don’t stretch onto the public sidewalk, where social distancing was difficult to monitor.

“Our oversight of the line on our stairs has been successful, but trying to get customers to follow our recommendations on the public sidewalk has been challenging,” the Facebook post said.

The restaurant opened on June 8 at 50 percent capacity, as part of the state’s phased reopening plan. At the restaurant’s opening, MSU’s student-run State News reported, the line waiting to get inside was not distanced.

The news of Harper’s closure comes amid reports of outbreaks tied to bars and restaurants in other states that have reopened. States such as Texas and Florida have backtracked on easing coronavirus restrictions, ordering bars to close.


The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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