US coronavirus deaths top 150 000 as economy suffers further

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An accelerating coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday worsened the US economic outlook and prompted Miami to decide students should not return to schools as deaths nationally topped 150 000, more than in any other country, according to a Reuters tally.

The increase of 10 000 deaths over the last 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June, prompting heated debates between the American public and its leaders over the best course forward.

Commercial pilot Rob Koreman of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he had been stunned by the climbing numbers.

Florida, an epicenter of the pandemic in recent weeks, reported another record in one-day deaths on Wednesday, 217, according to state health officials.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, among the largest school system in the nation, announced on Wednesday that students would start the fall term remotely, rather than with in-person learning.

“In light of viral surge in our community, it’s in the best interest of students and employees to commence the 20-21 school year at a distance,” the system said on Twitter. The school year is set to start August 31.

The Miami Herald newspaper reported that the school district will decide in late September if classes can resume October 5.

With the scheduled reopening of schools days away in some states, US President Donald Trump has pushed for students to return to class while teacher unions and local officials have called for them to stay home.

The pace of coronavirus infections has accelerated since late May and the epicenter has moved to the South and West from New York, which still has by far the highest number of fatalities of any US state at more than 32 000.

Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Texas each reported record spikes in fatalities on Tuesday.

The surge has hampered efforts to recover from an economic crisis brought on by stay-at-home orders and business closures that have devastated the economy and thrown millions of Americans out of work.

“We have seen some signs in recent weeks that the increase in virus cases and the renewed measures to control it are starting to weigh on economic activity,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference following release of the US central bank’s latest policy statement.

Many health experts say the US outbreak could be brought under greater control if guidelines to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public were enforced nationwide.

Trump has rejected the idea of a federal mask order and was initially reluctant to be seen wearing one. Trump has since come around to supporting masks but has not imposed a national mandate.

Louie Gohmert, a Republican lawmaker from Texas who has at times refused to wear a mask, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising concerns that other members of Congress may also have been exposed.

Officials in New Jersey, the state with the second-highest death toll, again pleaded with young people to avoid large gatherings.

“Coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors. Crowded indoor house parties are not smart or safe,” Governor Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted in March that the pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people by July.

In its latest statement on July 14, the IHME said its model now projects the US death toll at more than 224 000 by November 1, although the institute added that many fatalities could be avoided by preventative measures such as masks and social distancing.