The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

HOUSTON — The spread of the coronavirus surged unabated in hot spots around the U.S. on Thursday, with one city in South Carolina urging people to pray it into submission, a hospital in Texas bringing in military medical personnel and funeral morgues running out of space in Phoenix.

Record numbers of cases and deaths were popping up throughout the country. Texas reported 129 new deaths Thursday, and a third of the more than 3,400 COVID-19 fatalities registered there since the pandemic began were reported in the first two weeks of July alone. Health officials also reported more than 10,000 confirmed new cases for the third straight day.

In South Carolina, the state reported a record 69 deaths from COVID-19, more than double than any other day. In Louisiana, that state thought it had contained the virus earlier this year only to again see a resurgence of cases, averaging more than 2,000 new confirmed infections a day over the past week.

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A health care worker gathers information from a patient at a United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 testing site in Houston on Thursday. Associated Press/David J. Phillip

Florida reached another ominous record with 156 virus deaths reported Thursday as the state continued to experience a swift rise in cases. The state Department of Health reported 13,965 new coronavirus cases.

And while a number of governors had decided to mandate the wearing of masks in public places – including Arkansas’ Republican governor who had initially resisted such statewide mandates – mayors in some Georgia cities were balking at a directive from that state’s governor forbidding cities and counties from requiring face coverings.

The county medical examiner’s office in metro Phoenix has already gotten four large portable storage coolers to handle future surges of coronavirus cases and has ordered another 10 coolers, which are expected to arrive by the end of next week.

Read the full story on the surge in the South and West here.

Georgia governor sues to end cities’ requirement to wear face coverings

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is suing Atlanta to block the city from enforcing its mandate to wear a mask in public and other rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp clarified his executive orders on Thursday to expressly block Atlanta and at least 14 other local governments in Georgia from enforcing a mandate to wear a mask in public and other rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Stewart/Associated Press

Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, in a suit filed in state court late Thursday in Atlanta, argue that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has overstepped her authority and must obey Kemp’s executive orders under state law.

“Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the lawsuit states.

Kemp on Wednesday clarified his executive orders to expressly block Atlanta and at least 14 other local governments across the state from requiring people to wear face coverings.

Kemp’s order was met with defiance Thursday by Bottoms and some other mayors, who said they would continue enforcing the order. The lawsuit forces that showdown, resolving an ambiguous situation with Kemp denying local governments could order masks, but local governments arguing it was within their power.

“I am not afraid of the city being sued and I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s, any day of the week,” Bottoms said Thursday during a video news conference, telling reporters the city’s order is still in effect. She did not immediately respond later to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Read the full story about Georgia here.

CDC extends U.S. ban on cruise ships through September

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end September as coronavirus infections rise in most U.S. states, including Florida.

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The cruise ship Rotterdam turns as it prepares to dock at Port Everglades in April in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end September as coronavirus infections rise in most U.S. states, including Florida. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that it was extending a no-sail order that had been scheduled to expire July 24.

The order covers ships that can carry 250 or more passengers. The CDC said cruise ships are more crowded than most urban settings, and even when only essential crew remains on board, the virus continues to spread.

Companies that belong to an industry trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association, had already canceled cruises until Sept. 15 because of ongoing discussions with federal officials over how to restart operations safely. Members of the group include Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

The CDC said it supported the industry group’s decision but extended the federal ban “to ensure that passenger operations on cruise ships do not resume prematurely.”

From March 1 through July 10, there have been nearly 3,000 cases of COVID-19 or similar illnesses and 34 deaths on cruise ships, according to the CDC. There have been 99 outbreaks covering 80% of the ships in U.S. waters, the CDC said.

Coast Guard figures show that on July 10 there were 14,702 crew members on board 67 ships.

Major cruise lines are trying to save cash and raise more money on the private credit markets to survive the pandemic. Carnival Corp. said last week that it expects to burn about $20 million a day in cash through the rest of this year.

Coronavirus infections are rising in 40 states, and daily deaths have climbed more than 20% from a week ago. Florida, where many cruises begin and end, reported nearly 14,000 new virus cases and set a single-day record of 156 deaths reported on Thursday, beating the previous high of 132 deaths reported Tuesday.

Number of retailers requiring face masks in stores keeps growing

NEW YORK — Target, CVS Health and Publix Super Markets on Thursday joined the growing list of national chains that will require customers to wear face masks regardless of where cities or states stand on the issue.

Target’s mandatory face mask policy will go into effect Aug. 1, and all CVS stores will begin requiring them on Monday. Publix Super Markets Inc., based in Lakeland, Florida, said that its rule will kick in on Tuesday at all 1,200 stores.

More than 80% of Target’s 1,800 stores already require customers to wear masks due to local and state regulations. Target will hand out masks at entrances to those who need them.

The announcements come one day after the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart, said that it would mandate face shields for all customers starting Monday.

Starbucks, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Kroger Co. have also announced mandatory masks nationwide in recent days.

Retailers have hesitated to make masks mandatory nationwide out of fear of angering some customers over what, even in a pandemic, has become a political issue.

They have been reluctant to put employees in the position of becoming enforcers. Confrontations with customers and store employees have played out in multiple incidents caught on video.

It was difficult to enforce such rules even in states that mandate face masks. However, the recent surge of new virus cases — particularly in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona — has left them with no choice, retail experts say.

“To be clear, we’re not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer, ” said Jon Roberts, the chief operating officer at CVS. “What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering.”

Arkansas to require face masks in public

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an order Thursday requiring people to wear face masks in public throughout the state, which has had a surge in coronavirus cases over the past several weeks.

The Republican governor had resisted a statewide mask mandate and opposed issuing a stay-at-home order earlier in the pandemic, but he signed the order requiring masks when social distancing isn’t possible in the hopes of slowing the disease’s rapid spread in the state. The order takes effect Monday.

Hutchinson’s decision comes amid growing support for mask requirements from business and health leaders and a day after Bentonville-based Walmart said it would require customers to wear masks in all of its U.S. stores. The state’s largest newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, also called for a statewide requirement on Thursday.

Hutchinson previously encouraged people to wear masks and allowed cities to pass ordinances requiring their use, but he stopped short of requiring them statewide. He’s the latest Republican governor to relent on the mask issue in the face of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Alabama’s governor issued a similar mask mandate on Wednesday.

Arkansas’ coronavirus cases have dramatically risen since May, when the state began allowing businesses that had closed because of the pandemic to reopen despite warnings from national health officials about the risks of doing so too soon. Arkansas was one of a handful of states that did not issue a broader stay-at-home order that kept most businesses closed.

Hutchinson previously questioned how a mask mandate could be enforced in a rural state such as Arkansas, but this week he left open the possibility of such a requirement. The chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences called for a statewide requirement last weekend.

Hutchinson’s order was expected to face criticism from some conservatives in the state. Hours before he issued the order, a Republican legislator urged people to call Hutchinson to oppose any mask directive.

Florida reports nearly 14,000 new virus cases

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a roundtable discussion with Miami-Dade County mayors on Tuesday in Miami. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida announced a single-day record of 156 deaths from the coronavirus.

The state Department of Health reported 13,965 new coronavirus cases in Florida, bringing the total throughout the pandemic to nearly 316,000.

The 156 deaths statewide eclipsed the previous record set Tuesday of 132 deaths.

The U.S. Department of Labor also reported a surge in first-time filings for unemployment benefits in Florida. In the week ending July 11, there were 129,408 new filings, an increase of more than 62,000 from the previous week.

Virus will continue to ‘hopscotch’ around U.S. if not contained, former CDC official warns

As states in the American South and West see record coronavirus hospitalizations — and as a troubling new spike emerges in Ohio, where early spring interventions had helped to flatten its curve — one former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official says the trend is likely to continue unless the United States successfully contains the outbreak through mask wearing and aggressive testing and tracing.

“We should expect this disease to continue to hopscotch across the United States, because over 90 percent of people are still susceptible,” Ali Khan, former director of the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness, said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day” program. “… Even places that think they’re doing quite well right now — they’re not. Until you get this contained within your community, you are at risk of it coming back again and increasing.”

Khan lamented that the United States seems to have “surrendered” to the pandemic. Meanwhile, other countries, including once hard-hit Europe, have contained the virus, while others have fought the outbreak down to zero cases. Khan added that even China, once the epicenter, has seen its economy bounce back.

In his unflattering assessment of the U.S. response, Khan also urged everyone to wear masks and make the practice as normal as putting on pants before going outside. While a growing number of U.S. governors have issued statewide mask mandates, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Wednesday night issued an executive order undermining mask mandates implemented at the local level.

For the United States to contain the outbreak, Khan said habits will have to change. “We can’t continue this dichotomy of ‘Save lives’ and ‘Save the way we live,’ ” he said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp forbids cities, counties from requiring masks as coronavirus surges in the state

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed an executive order Wednesday night explicitly banning cities from enacting their own mask mandates, even as the state experiences a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and other Republican governors are turning to mask orders to try to quell the surge.

Kemp’s order voids existing mask mandates in more than a dozen cities or counties while also extending other coronavirus social distancing restrictions statewide.

The governor had previously tried to ban cities and counties from passing any coronavirus restrictions that went further than Georgia’s guidelines. But many cities, including Atlanta, defied him by passing mask mandates anyway, arguing that it was essential to flatten the curve. Kemp’s new order “strongly encourages” masks.

Republican convention in Jacksonville will be scaled back next month

The Republican Party will hold a scaled-back convention in Jacksonville, Fla., next month that includes a mix of outdoor and indoor venues, according to a letter sent to delegates.

The Thursday letter from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, obtained by The Washington Post, said admittance will be limited to only regular delegates for the first three days of the convention — or about 2,500 people. For the final day, when the president attends, delegates will get a guest, and alternate delegates can also attend — or 6,000 to 7,000 people.

In the letter, McDaniel says the changes are to comply with Florida rules after the party moved most of the convention from North Carolina.

“When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a traditional convention celebration to which we are all accustomed. However, adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines,” she said.

McDaniel said in the letter that officials are likely to use both outdoor and indoor spaces in Florida, though officials say final decisions have not been made on where the speeches will occur.

“We plan to utilize a number of indoor and outdoor venues in this multi-block radius of Jacksonville, including the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, TIAA Bank Field, Daily’s Place Amphitheater, 121 Financial Ballpark, and several others,” the letter says.

It also says attendees will be offered coronavirus testing, though specifics are not included.

“We plan to implement a variety of health protocols in order to ensure a safe event. This plan includes but is not limited to on-site temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, and available COVID-19 testing,” McDaniel wrote.

Africa CDC wants local vaccine manufacturing

JOHANNESBURG — As the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic crashes across Africa, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the intellectual property from any effective vaccine should be made available for local manufacturing and swifter distribution.

John Nkengasong also told reporters that Africa’s 1.3 billion people have “all kinds of differences in genetic makeup, so we want to be sure that we are participating fully” in vaccine trials.

Africa has had more than 644,000 confirmed virus cases, nearly half in South Africa alone.

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A pupil’s temperature is checked on returning to school in Johannesburg. Associated Press/Denis Farrell

Concerns are widespread that any successful vaccine will be snapped up by richer countries and that Africa will be last in line, an echo of the time when it took years for affordable HIV drugs to become available.

The Africa CDC chief said the continent has more than 80 potential clinical trial sites with the ability to enroll participants and monitor them carefully. He also warned that “we are in for a long, long journey” in this pandemic.

Indian resort area locked down after opening to tourists

NEW DELHI — India’s virus cases have surged another 32,695, taking the nation closer to 1 million and forcing a new lockdown in the popular western beach state of Goa, two weeks after it reopened to tourists.

The new confirmed cases took the national total to 968,876. The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported a record number of 606 deaths for a total of 24,915.

The Indian Medical Association said 99 doctors have died and another 1,302 are infected with the coronavirus. It called for shortening of working hours for health workers following safety concerns.

It also said the fatality rate among doctors was 7.6%, much high than the national average of about 2.5%.

About a dozen states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam, have put high-risk areas under lockdowns, allowing only essential food supplies and health services.

Goa state’s top elected official, Pramod Sawant, announced a three-day lockdown and a night curfew in the popular backpacking tourist destination, beginning Thursday night.

He said people were flouting social distancing norms. Nearly 40,000 were fined 100 rupees ($1.3) each in the past two weeks for not wearing masks.

Pennsylvania sets new restrictions on bars, restaurants

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is imposing broad new statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants and larger indoor gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday there has been an “alarming escalation” in new infections.

Nightclubs will be shut down, bars must close unless they also offer dine-in meals, and bars and restaurants will be limited to 25% capacity under Wolf’s order that takes effect Thursday. The order also requires businesses to have their employees work from home to the extent possible.

The new restrictions come more than two months after Pennsylvania began reopening its pandemic-battered economy and they risk major backlash in large swaths of the state where COVID-19 has largely been kept at bay.

But Wolf warns that a “new surge is in the offing” that could eclipse what happened in the spring, when the virus killed thousands and sickened tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Mississippi governor may restrict bars

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says he may set restrictions on bars in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but he isn’t revealing any timetable and hasn’t indicated if the rules will be statewide.

The governor commented Wednesday after meeting with Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House coronavirus task force. Reeves says Birx praised the Mississippi order that took effect this week requiring people to wear masks in public in 13 of the state’s 82 counties.

The Mississippi Health Department reported that a record 1,099 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus in the state as of Tuesday evening. That is up from 664 on June 22.

Mississippi has had more than 38,500 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began.

Los Angeles is in ‘an alarming and dangerous phase’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has reported its second-highest daily total of new coronavirus cases and equaled its second worst day for deaths.

More than 11,000 new cases were recorded by state officials Tuesday, a rise of 3.3%. California also recorded 140 deaths, tying a recent tally for its second-highest daily figure.

The number of tests and the rate of those testing positive also rose. The positivity rate over the past two weeks has now topped 7%, while in hard-hit Los Angeles County with a quarter of California’s population that rate has soared to nearly 10%.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that Los Angeles County is in “an alarming and dangerous phase” that could overwhelm intensive care units and prompt sweeping closure orders if not reversed.


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