The Slatest

Coronavirus Cases Soar as Fauci Warns New Mutation May Cause Virus to Spread More Easily

A man slacklines while wearing a face mask on Santa Monica beach amid the COVID-19 pandemic on July 2, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Beginning July 3, Los Angeles County beaches and piers will be closed through the July 4th holiday weekend amid some reinstated restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
A man slacklines while wearing a face mask on Santa Monica beach amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday in California. Beginning Friday, Los Angeles County beaches and piers will be closed through the holiday weekend amid some reinstated restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mario Tama/Getty Images

A holiday weekend that would normally be marked by crowds and parades is set to take on a more subdued tone this year as 40 of the country’s 50 states are seeing a rise in cases. At least eight states have seen record daily increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases this week. Officials are calling on people to put the partying on pause this year as the country set a single-day record for new cases on Thursday with 52,291 , marking the sixth time in nine days that the record has been broken. The increase in cases is also being accompanied by records for hospitalizations across several states as deaths, which had been on the decline, are rising again.

In order to ensure that people don’t ignore recommendations to stay home, several counties in Florida are closing their beaches and Miami-Dade County has imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Friday. Beaches were also closed across Southern California. The increases are leading to some remarkable shifts in positions, including from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas who called for people to wear masks in all counties with at least 20 cases of COVID-19. He had previously opposed efforts by local officials to require people to wear masks.

The increase in cases is also causing officials to change their plans as the risk of infection rises. Vice President Mike Pence, for example, was forced to postpone a planned trip to Arizona by a day after several Secret Service agents had tested positive or were showing symptoms consistent with the virus. He was scheduled to go on Tuesday but went on Wednesday instead. As some officials work on trying to get people to stay at home, President Donald Trump is touting a big July Fourth celebration on the National Mall that will include a huge fireworks display. Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt said the celebration “promises to be the largest in recent memory” even though Washington’s mayor has expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19. “We’ve communicated to them that we do not think this is in keeping with the best CDC and Department of Health guidance. But this event will take place entirely on federal property,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

Officials are blaming the rise in cases on Americans failing to protect themselves and each other by wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing. “What we’ve seen is a very disturbing week,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, adding that “we’re going to be in some serious difficulty” if people continue to ignore the recommendations.

The coronavirus may also be spreading more easily. Fauci warned that a new strain of the virus that is dominant around the world could contain a mutation that allows it to spread more easily. Although research is still under way, “there’s little dispute about it,” Fauci said in an interview in which he explained that “the data is showing there’s a single mutation that makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads.” Fauci was citing a study published in the journal Cell that notes that while the mutation makes it more likely for the virus to infect people, it doesn’t seem to make them any sicker. Other researchers, though, have cautioned that the findings are not yet definitive.

For more of Slate’s news coverage, listen to What Next: TBD.