The virus continued its steady spread across the Sun Belt on Tuesday, with state officials in Arizona, Florida and Texas all reporting their largest one-day increases in new cases yet.
Florida reported 2,783 new cases, Texas 2,622, and Arizona 2,392.
The new daily highs came as all three states have increased testing and moved swiftly to ease social distancing restrictions and allow more businesses to reopen. They were among 20 states that have seen the number of newly reported cases grow over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, attributed the uptick to more widespread testing, noting at a news conference Tuesday that the state was not only testing far more people than it did earlier in the spring, but was also going into high-risk environments, testing farm workers and migrant workers, and finding new cases.
But epidemiologists have said that the numbers recorded in the state in recent days suggest increased transmissions, and the governor acknowledged that community transmission remained a factor.
“There’s been community spread the whole time,” Mr. DeSantis said at the news conference, saying that there were pockets of the state with higher rates, particularly lower-income areas.
He dismissed the idea that the recent infections stemmed from the reopening of businesses including bars and restaurants and said the state would not shutter activity again.
“We’re not shutting down,” he said. He added: “You have to have society function.”
Epidemiologists have said that even taking into account the increase in testing, the rise in confirmed cases in several Sun Belt states suggested increased transmissions, and they pointed to other measures, including the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations. In Florida more than 4.5 percent of those who tested between May 31 and June 6 had the virus, compared with about 2.3 percent of people who sought tests in mid-May. Rates in Arizona and Texas have also risen in recent weeks.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said that Tuesday’s new high reflected several anomalies, and that some counties may have reported a backlog of cases that were not reported in recent days. But he also put some of the blame for Texas’s increase in cases on people under 30, suggesting that they were being too casual about wearing masks and social distancing. He said that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had issued a warning this week to bars and restaurants that they face the suspension of their liquor licenses if they violate protocols.
Tension between the state and local governments over escalated again on Tuesday as nine Texas mayors, including those for the state’s largest cities, asked Mr. Abbott to give them the authority to mandate the use of face masks for their communities. The governor’s statewide policies do not require the wearing of face masks, although he strongly encourages them.
In Arizona, interest in the new one-day high was so great that the state’s health department’s website reported problems that it attributed to increased traffic. The state said that its daily increase of positive cases was 2,392, bringing its total to 39,097, and that another 25 people had died, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,219.
Featured image: A coronavirus walk-up testing site in Immokalee, Fla., last week.Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times