By Lisa Shumaker
(Reuters) – Alabama, Florida and North Carolina reported record daily increases in COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, a trio of grim milestones that follows the first nationwide increase in fatalities since mid-April as some U.S. states rushed to reopen.
The number of new cases reported daily began rising about six weeks ago, especially in southern and western states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas, which have been quick to lift restrictions that caused massive job losses but also helped control the spread of the virus.
New coronavirus cases rose in 46 of 50 U.S. states last week over the previous week, according to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. So far in July, 28 states have reported record daily increases in new cases.
With more than 3.3 million cases, the United States has one of the highest numbers of cases per capita in the world. With more than 135,000 deaths, the United States ranks seventh in fatalities per capita among the 20 countries with the most cases.
Florida on Tuesday reported 133 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the state’s death toll to more than 4,500. Its previous record increase was 120 on July 9. Alabama reported a record increase of 40 deaths and North Carolina 35 deaths, bringing each state’s total to over 1,100.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday visited Louisiana, which reported nearly 13,000 new cases last week. The state attorney general, Jeff Landry, announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus and would not meet Pence when he arrived, according to media reports citing an email that Landry sent to his employees.
Against a backdrop of rising cases and deaths, many U.S. school districts have been left to decide on their own whether to reopen classrooms even as governors order other businesses such as bars to close.
North Carolina’s governor on Tuesday ordered schools to reopen if safety measures can be met and districts can opt for online learning only.
Both Florida and New York state plan to welcome students back to classrooms. New York is one of a handful of states where cases continue to fall and positive test rates are about 1%. Florida has reported more new cases in recent days than most countries in the world and its positive test rate is 19%.
Another district that favors reopening in person is Orange County, California, where the board of education recommended on Tuesday that its schools reopen without requiring masks or social distancing. That state’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, are opting for all online learning.
Refusing to reopen puts some districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status if they refuse to reopen classrooms, even though most schools are financed by state and local taxes.
Trump’s campaign views the reopening of classrooms, enabling parents to get back to work, as a key to economic recovery and a boost to his re-election chances on Nov. 3.
The nation’s 98,000 K-12 public schools are a cornerstone of the economy, providing childcare for working parents, employing 8 million workers prior to the pandemic and preparing some 50 million students to join the U.S. workforce. Total expenditures for these schools were $721 billion during the 2018 fiscal year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, exceeding the U.S. Defense Department’s $671 billion budget that year.
Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; David Lawder in Washington; and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell.