Texas and Florida reversed course and again clamped down on bars Friday as the number of confirmed per-day U.S. coronavirus infections surged to a new high of 40,000.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars closed, while Florida banned alcohol consumption at bars. The two states joined the small but growing list of those that are either scaling back reopenings or putting any further reopenings of their economies on hold because of a resurgence of the virus, mostly in the South and West.
Health experts say they are seeing a disturbingly large number of cases among young people who are getting out, often without wearing masks or observing social-distancing guidelines.
"It is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars," Abbott said.
Abbott also scaled back restaurant capacity in Texas, shut down rafting operations and said any outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people will need approval from the local government.
Up to now, Abbott had pursued one of the most aggressive reopening schedules of any governor. The Republican not only resisted calls to order the wearing of masks but refused until last week to let local governments take such measures.
"The doctors told us at the time, and told anyone who would listen, this will be a disaster. And it has been," said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat and the county's top official. "Once again, the governor is slow to act. He is now being forced to do the things that we've been demanding that he do for the last month and a half."
Texas reported more than 17,000 new cases in the past three days, with a record high of nearly 6,000 Thursday. In Florida, under GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, the agency that regulates bars acted after the daily number of new cases neared 9,000, almost doubling the record set just two days earlier.
Florida bars are still permitted to sell alcohol in sealed containers for consumption off site, and restaurants that primarily sell food can still serve alcohol to customers seated at tables.
Colleen Corbett, a 30-year-old bartender at two places in Tampa, said she was disappointed and worried about being unemployed again but that the restrictions are the right move. Most customers, she said, are not wearing masks.
"It was like they forgot there was a pandemic or just stopped caring," she said.
A number of hard-hit states, including Arizona and Arkansas, have Republican governors who have resisted mask-wearing requirements and have largely echoed President Donald Trump's desire to reopen the economy quickly despite warnings that the virus could come storming back.
This week, Louisiana reported its second one-day spike of more than 1,300 cases. The increasing numbers led Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards to suspend further easing of restrictions.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did the same in Arizona, which has been seeing more than 3,000 cases a day. And Nevada's governor ordered the wearing of masks in Las Vegas casinos and other public places.
DeSantis has been lifting restrictions more slowly than a task force recommended but has allowed theme parks to reopen, encouraged professional sports to go to Florida and pushed for the GOP convention to be held in the Sunshine State.
In a reversal of fortune, New York said it is offering equipment and other help to Arizona, Texas and Florida, noting that other states came to New York's aid when it was in the throes of the deadliest outbreak in the nation this spring.
"We will never forget that graciousness, and we will repay it any way we can," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
NUMBERS ON CASES
The count of new confirmed infections, provided by Johns Hopkins University, eclipsed the previous high of 36,400, set on April 24, during one of the deadliest stretches of the shutdown. Newly reported cases per day have risen on average about 60% over the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis.
While the rise partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence that the scourge is making a comeback, raising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and producing higher percentages of tests coming back positive.
Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of about 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level because of advances in treatment and prevention, and because younger adults are more likely than older ones to survive.
The virus is blamed for about 125,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million confirmed infections nationwide, by Johns Hopkins' count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives.
PENCE TOUTS PROGRESS
The Trump administration Friday claimed "remarkable progress" in fighting the pandemic.
Vice President Mike Pence held the first public briefing of the coronavirus task force in nearly two months -- at the Department of Health and Human Services rather than at the White House -- and sought to deliver an upbeat message that was at odds with warnings from public health experts.Gallery: Texas orders bars closed, reduces restaurant capacity
He dodged the question of whether people should wear masks in public, as his own administration recommends, and said campaign rallies that pack people together, in violation of public health guidance, will continue.
Pence offered no new strategies to combat the rapidly spreading virus and minimized record daily case counts in several states as "outbreaks in specific counties."
"As we stand here today, all 50 states and territories across the country are opening up, and safely and responsibly," Pence said.
While Pence acknowledged the rising numbers of cases in the South and the West, he sought to play down the threat while heaping praise on Trump for how he has handled the pandemic.
He argued that many of the new cases are being found in younger Americans, who are at less risk of developing deadly complications, and that states have told him they have enough medical equipment to deal with the surge in infections.
He also repeated the claim that more testing is the main reason for the rising numbers of cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, sounded a more cautionary tone at the briefing.
"As you can see, we are facing a serious problem in certain areas," Fauci said. But he also was careful not to blame the recent spike on gatherings where people haven't worn masks or adhered to social distancing guidelines.
Fauci urged people to mind their responsibility to others: "A risk for you is not just isolated to you."
At the White House, Trump held a jobs-focused event and offered this message: "We have a little work to do, and we'll get it done. We're having some very good numbers coming out in terms of the comeback, the comeback of our nation, and I think it's going very rapidly, and it's going to be very good."
A federal judge Friday blocked New York state from enforcing coronavirus restrictions limiting indoor religious gatherings to 25% capacity when other types of gatherings are limited to 50%.
Judge Gary Sharpe enjoined Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing some of the capacity restrictions put in place by executive order to contain the spread of the virus.
The plaintiffs' religious activities "will be burdened and continue to be treated less favorably than comparable secular activities," Sharpe said in his 38-page ruling from Albany.
The plaintiffs, two Catholic priests from upstate New York and three Orthodox Jewish congregants from Brooklyn, argued that the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights to practice their religion.
The plaintiffs said the restrictions forced the Rev. Steven Soos and the Rev. Nicholas Stamos, members of the breakaway Society of St. Pius X, to either turn away parishioners who wished to attend Mass "or to hold more Masses per day than are possible."
Christopher Ferrara, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the unequal restrictions "an irrational targeting of houses of worship."
"The idea that houses of worship are some deadly viral vector unlike anything else is just superstition," Ferrara said in a phone interview. "There's no science to support that."
Restrictions limiting the number of people who can attend outdoor religious gatherings will also be lifted by the injunction.
The New York State Catholic Conference said New York bishops were not involved in the lawsuit. Spokesman Dennis Poust said he anticipated that "our churches will continue to voluntarily follow state guidelines as a matter of prudential judgment."
The judge noted that Cuomo and de Blasio have expressed approval for protests against racism and police brutality while continuing to support restrictions on religious gatherings.
The Department of Justice called the decision "a win for religious freedom and the civil liberties of New Yorkers."
AROUND THE WORLD
The European Union is ready to bar most travelers from the United States, Russia and dozens of other countries considered too risky because they have not controlled the coronavirus outbreak, EU officials said Friday.
By contrast, travelers from more than a dozen countries that are not overwhelmed by the virus are set to be welcomed when the bloc reopens after months of lockdown Wednesday. The acceptable countries include China -- but only if it allows EU travelers to visit as well, the officials said.
The list of safe countries was completed by EU senior diplomats in Brussels after tortuous negotiations on how to reopen the 27-member bloc to commerce and tourism under a common set of standards after months of lockdown. The list was backed in principle by most EU ambassadors and does not require unanimous support, but still needs to be formalized in member states' capitals as well as in the central EU bureaucracy.
The exclusion of the United States, an important source of tourism to the EU, represented a stinging rebuke to the Trump administration's management of the pandemic.
The United States, which banned most EU travelers in March when the virus was raging in Europe, has not eased its own restrictions since then, even though European infections and deaths have dropped.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked Thursday about the prospect of a prolonged ban on American travel to Europe, struck a conciliatory tone but said many European countries were eager to admit American visitors.
China moved closer to containing a fresh outbreak in Beijing, while India saw another record daily increase that pushed the caseload in the world's second-most-populous nation toward half a million.
Other countries with big populations like Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico grappled with large numbers of infections and strained health care systems.
Information for this article was contributed by Paul J. Weber, Michelle R. Smith, Darlene Superville, Deb Riechmann, Zeke Mille, Jill Colvin, Karen Matthews and staff members of The Associated Press; by Anne Gearan and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post; and by Matina Stevis-Gridneff of The New York Times.