By Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani Washington/New York (Reuters) - The recent spike in U.S. coronavirus infections has been fueled in large part by Americans ignoring public health guidelines to keep their distance and wear masks, the government's top infectious disease official said, as President Donald Trump was pressured to lead by example.
The daily surge in confirmed cases and hospitalizations has been most pronounced in Sun Belt states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona that disregarded benchmark health guidelines to wait for a steady, two-week decline in infections before reopening their economies.
"That's a recipe for disaster," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview broadcast on Monday.
"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," Fauci said in the interview, which was recorded on Friday.
Now, those mostly southern and western states are backtracking, closing bars and beaches and delaying the reopening of other businesses and activities. AMC, the largest U.S. movie theater chain, on Monday said it was pushing back the opening of its theaters to July 30 from July 15.
Some Americans will no longer be able to look forward to going to a bar or a beach on the July Fourth holiday after violations on crowd limits. Beaches in Florida's Broward County and Palm Beach County will not open on July 3-5, officials said on Sunday. Miami-Dade County had already announced beach closures for the Independence Day weekend.
California authorities on Sunday ordered bars in Los Angeles and six other counties to close. Texas and Florida ordered the closure of all their bars on Friday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has become a leading voice during the pandemic, said on Monday that Trump's focus on reopening the economy was misguided and that it had backfired. Trump should issue an executive order mandating that people wear masks in public, and he should "lead by example" by wearing one himself, Cuomo said.
Face covering to help stop the virus' spread has become as much a political as a public health issue, with many Trump supporters saying such mandates infringe on their personal freedom.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday pressed Americans to adopt face masks during a trip to Texas and wore one himself, a sharp turnaround for the administration. Other Republican politicians https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-congress-masks/wear-a-mask-republicans-change-tune-as-covid-19-surges-idUSKBN24027P in hard hit states also are now calling for masks.
The city of Jacksonville, Florida, venue for part of the Republican nominating convention in August ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election, said on its official Twitter account that it will be adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations starting later on Monday.
When asked about the mask mandate, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump "has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests."
Arizona and Georgia were among the states reporting record new cases this week. Last week, a total of 15 U.S. states reported records, according to a Reuters tally.
In June, 22 U.S. states reported record increases in new cases, often multiple times, including Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah.
The United States accounts for about a quarter of all reported global coronavirus cases and related deaths, which surpassed 10 million and 500,000, respectively, over the weekend.
In places where the number of cases are soaring, U.S. health officials are also considering "completely blanketing these communities with tests," Fauci said, to try to get a better sense of an outbreak.
Fauci said he was optimistic that a vaccine could be available by year's end, but that it was unclear how effective it would prove to be.