Florida hits record increase in COVID-19 cases as authorities call wearing mask ‘absolutely essential’

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As the United States grapples with the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, Florida took a grim milestone on Sunday, shattering the national record for the largest single-day increase in positive cases of a state.

Deaths from the virus have also increased in the United States, particularly in the South and West, although they remain well below the highs reached in April, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from the ‘Johns Hopkins University.

“I really think we could control that, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should come together when we are in crisis, and we certainly don’t.” said Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.

Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, called the wearing of masks in public, which has met resistance in some US states, “absolutely essential.”

Giroir, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that “if we don’t have this, we won’t control the virus.”

President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time on Saturday, which Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday showed he had “crossed a bridge.”

Pelosi told CNN’s “State of the Union” that she hopes this means the president “will change his attitude, which will be helpful in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.”

In Florida, 15,299 people have tested positive, for a total of 269,811 cases, and 45 deaths have been recorded, according to statistics from the state Department of Health.

California had the previous record for daily positive cases – 11,694, set on Wednesday.

The numbers come at the end of a bleak, record-breaking week as Florida reported 514 deaths – an average of 73 per day. Three weeks ago, the state was averaging 30 deaths a day.

Researchers expect the number of deaths to increase in the United States for at least a few weeks, but some believe the number is unlikely to rise as dramatically as it did in the spring due to several factors, including the increase tests.

Meanwhile, countries in Eastern Europe were also facing increasing waves of coronavirus infections, resulting in riots in Serbia, mandatory masks in Croatia and travel bans or quarantines imposed by Hungary.

“We are seeing worrying signs of an increase in the number of cases in neighboring countries, in Europe and around the world,” said Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “Now we need to protect our own security and prevent the virus from being imported from overseas.”

Hungarian officials said on Sunday they had classified countries into three categories – red, yellow and green – based on their rates of new coronavirus infections, and would impose restrictions, including entry bans and mandatory quarantines, depending on the country people are coming from.

Serbia, where health officials warn hospitals are almost full due to the latest increase, reported 287 new infections on Sunday, though growing doubts were cast as to the accuracy of the numbers. Officially, the country has more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March. Sunday’s report of 11 coronavirus deaths was the second highest daily death toll in the country.

Serbian police clashed with anti-government protesters for four nights last week in protests that forced the Serbian president to withdraw his plan to reintroduce a coronavirus lockdown. Many of the growing infections have been attributed to crowded soccer games, tennis events and nightclubs.

In Bulgaria, authorities reintroduced restrictions lifted a few weeks ago due to a further upsurge in cases.

Albania has also seen a significant increase in infections since mid-May, when it eased lockdown measures. The Balkan nation has reported 93 new cases, more than double the highest daily figures for March and April, and the health ministry has called the situation at the main infectious disease hospital “serious”.

“Do not lower your vigilance and respect the rules of hygiene”, urged the Albanian health authorities.

Croatia, whose island-dotted Adriatic coast is a major tourist destination, makes it compulsory to wear a mask in shops from Monday.

Still, the number of infections in Eastern Europe is pale compared to daily coronavirus reports in India, South Africa and Brazil, whose anti-virus president has tested positive.

India, which has the most cases after the United States and Brazil, has seen a record increase of 28,637 reported cases in the past 24 hours. Authorities also announced a weeklong lockdown starting Tuesday at the main tech hub in southern Bangalore, where the offices of major tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are located.

South Africa has reported more than 10,000 new cases daily for several consecutive days, including 13,497 new infections reported on Saturday evening. One of the hotspots for the virus is the densely populated township of Soweto in Johannesburg. With over 264,000 cases and 3,971 deaths, South Africa accounts for over 40% of all reported coronavirus cases in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, which has limited its coronavirus outbreak to a few hundred cases, an annual film festival ended with an awards ceremony this weekend where cast and others lined up for photo shoots without social distancing, and participants did not wear masks.

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Tamars Lush and Pablo Gorondi of The Associated Press reported from Budapest, Hungary. AP editors around the world contributed to this report.

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