Donald Trump

Covid-19 turns battleground states into hotspots

Dr Anthony Fauci: Now we’re seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location like a prison or nursing home or meatpacking place

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US PRESS GROUP

Coronavirus infection rates in the US have increased to a record high, putting hospitals under severe pressure and turning election battlegrounds Florida, Texas and Arizona into the latest hotspots. More than 2.56 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US ,and more than 126,000 have died of Covid-19, the respiratory illness it causes, according to Johns Hopkins University. These are the biggest totals in the world and raise fears of worse to come.

The “window is closing” for the US to get the pandemic under control, Alex Azar, the health secretary, warned on Sunday as 36 states reported rises in new cases compared to the previous week. Only two states – Connecticut and Rhode Island – reported a decrease.

Thwarting official promises that the pandemic would be beaten by now, last week the daily number of confirmed infections jumped to an all-time high of 40,000 nationwide. Florida had a record 9,585 infections on Saturday, followed by 8,530 on Sunday. Texas reported 5,400 to nearly 6,000 new cases per day between 23 and 28 June.

Donald Trump is accused of a historic failure of leadership not once but twice: first for downplaying the virus and sidelining experts when it erupted five months ago, and now for all but ignoring its resurgence across southern and western states, including several seen as crucial to his chances of re-election in November.

The president has focused squarely on economic recovery, but some states have now been forced to scale back reopening efforts. California ordered some bars to close, the first major reversal of efforts to reopen the economy in the most populous state. Texas and Florida have done likewise.

Meanwhile, a former Florida health department data scientist has claimed officials asked her to manually change numbers so it would appear the virus’s spread was not bad enough to delay reopening.

“It was very clear at that point that the science behind the science-driven plan didn’t matter, because the plan was already made,” Rebekah Jones told National Public Radio (NPR).

The rise has been worst in states that did not follow official recommendations to wait for a steady decline in infections for two weeks before reopening their economies.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN: “That’s a recipe for disaster. Now we’re seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location like a prison or nursing home or meatpacking place.”

In places where cases are rising, officials are also considering “completely blanketing these communities with tests”, Fauci said.

Vice-President Mike Pence on Sunday urged Americans to wear masks, and wore one himself during a trip to Texas, although Trump refuses to do so.

“Wear a mask, wherever it’s indicated or wherever you’re not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Pence said.

Texas governor Greg Abbott, facing criticism for reopening too soon, admitted: “Covid-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks.”

Abbott has also banned elective surgeries in the state’s biggest counties.

The pandemic has transformed the political landscape in an election year. At the start of 2020, Trump seemingly believed he was cruising to re-election on the back of a robust economy. Now he is he most vulnerable incumbent since George HW Bush lost in 1992, under attack for a lack of national strategy, inadequate contact tracing and effectively abandoning state governors to fight the virus alone.

Trump has also defied public health guidelines by staging campaign rallies with few face masks and little physical distancing. Just before a recent event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his campaign directed the removal of thousands of “Do Not Sit Here, Please!” stickers from seats which were intended to establish physical distance between supporters.

His opponent, Joe Biden, said in a speech in Pennsylvania last week: “He’s like a child who just can’t believe this has happened to him. It’s all whining and self-pity. This pandemic didn’t happen to him. It happened to all of us.”

Trump finally appears to be paying a political price. Several polls show Trump, also under pressure for his response to Black Lives Matter protests, is now trailing Biden by double digits nationally and losing in six battleground states that were key to his win in 2016.

The Washington Post reported that “some Trump advisers and allies are privately pushing for sweeping changes to the campaign, including the idea of a major staff shake-up and trying to convince the president to be more disciplined in his message and behavior”.

One unnamed Trump ally told the Post: “If the election was today, we are in big trouble. Thankfully, it is not.”

If you’re winning without doing anything, why do anything?

“Joe Biden’s hiding in the basement and not saying anything. No … no discredit to the vice-president, if you’re winning without doing anything, why do anything?”

Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey who endorsed Trump in 2016, told ABC News: “He is losing. And if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he’s discussing and the way that he approaches the American people, then he will lose.”

Biden has primarily been campaigning from his home in Delaware, because of virus lockdown restrictions. He has gone more than two months without holding a press conference and is not expected to host a traditional rally in the near future.

Christie added: “There’s no question that while these national polls are less significant in terms of the raw numbers, the trend is obvious. The trend is moving towards Joe Biden, when Joe Biden hasn’t said a word.

“Joe Biden’s hiding in the basement and not saying anything. No … no discredit to the vice-president, if you’re winning without doing anything, why do anything?”

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