Some Californian restaurants shut their doors Wednesday as new measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic threaten to scupper US Independence Day plans, with beaches closed, fireworks displays scrapped and family reunions put on hold.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases across the United States have surged to more than 40,000 a day and the virus death toll has topped 127,000 ahead of a July 4th weekend shaping up to be like none in recent memory.
Indoor restaurants, bars and movie theaters across much of California were ordered to close for at least three weeks, in a major reversal of the state’s reopening process.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s order affects 70 percent of the nation’s most populous state, including Los Angeles, where Dodger Stadium will host COVID-19 testing rather than professional baseball this weekend.
“It’s unfortunate that the city opened up, I think, a little too early,” said Marisol Martinez, waiting in line.
California — with 6,000 coronavirus deaths — was initially praised for its swift pandemic response, but has set new daily case records in the past week after reopening.
Beaches in California as well as Florida, normally packed with sun-seeking vacationers, have been shut down after the coastal states experienced an alarming surge in virus cases.
Scores of towns and cities across the United States have dropped their traditional parades and fireworks displays to avoid bringing together the crowds which spread the virus.
With airline travel considered a risky proposition by many, far fewer families are getting together for the reunions and cookouts that traditionally mark the holiday.
Not everything has been cancelled, however, on this 244th anniversary of the July 4, 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence.
President Donald Trump, who is facing a tough re-election battle in November and is eager to portray a semblance of normalcy, plans to travel to South Dakota on Friday for a fireworks display at the Mount Rushmore monument to four of his predecessors.
The White House said Trump will also host a “Salute to America” event in Washington on Saturday featuring “music, military demonstrations, and flyovers” and a “spectacular fireworks display over the National Mall.”
Military flyovers will also be held in the skies of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, the Pentagon said.
– ‘Wish the pandemic away’ –
The presidential campaign of Trump’s November opponent, Democrat Joe Biden, accused the White House of seeking to “wish this pandemic away.”
“The situation is getting worse and that is because throughout this pandemic, the current administration has failed to listen to the experts and put forth a cohesive, national strategy to get COVID-19 under control,” Biden’s communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
In Florida, one of the worst-hit states, health officials reported 6,563 new virus cases — slightly more than the previous two days — as southern counties cancelled July 4 fireworks displays and Miami Beach made it mandatory to wear a mask in public.
In California, the new restrictions affecting 19 counties will remain in place for at least three weeks, with trips to the zoo, museum and family entertainment centers also cancelled.
Restaurants in Los Angeles had been cleared to re-open in late May, but are now restricted to outdoor and take-out dining.
Newsom said the move aimed to take “as many activities as we can… outdoors, which is a way of mitigating the spread of this virus.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also issued an order to end indoor serving in bars across much of the state.
“Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe,” she said.
In New York City — previously the epicenter of the US outbreak, but where COVID-19 cases have been on the decline — the mayor hit the pause button on reopening the economy.
“We cannot go ahead at this point of time with indoor dining in New York City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “A week ago I was hopeful we could.”
“The data around the country has been getting worse and worse and worse,” the mayor said, echoing a warning from top US diseases expert Anthony Fauci that the country could see new cases reach 100,000 a day if measures were not taken.