July 23, 2020 / 3:53 PM / 21 days ago

U.S. coronavirus cases pass 4 million in rapid acceleration

July 23 (Reuters) - The total number of coronavirus cases reported in the United States passed 4 million on Thursday, reflecting a rapid acceleration of infections detected in the country since the first case was recorded on Jan. 21, a Reuters tally showed.

It took the country 98 days to reach 1 million cases, but just 16 days to go from 3 million to 4 million, according to the tally. The average number of new U.S. cases is now rising by more than 2,600 every hour, the highest rate in the world.

As the pandemic has spread widely over the country, moving from the early epicenter of New York to the South and West, federal, state and local officials have clashed over how to fight it, including over how and when to ease social and economic restrictions aimed at curbing the infection rate.

Whether to order the wearing of masks, a common practice in the rest of the world and recommended by the federal government’s own health experts, has become highly politicized, with some Republican governors in hard-hit states particularly resistant.

President Donald Trump, who faces falling poll numbers over his handling of the health crisis ahead of an election in November, has long resisted wearing a mask but this week encouraged Americans to do so.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said on Thursday said he believed his city’s strict rule on mask-wearing is making a difference, citing improving numbers there.

“The remediation efforts that we’ve taken, including the mask in public rule, are working,” he told CNN.

Another partisan point of contention is whether schools should start fully opening in August despite concerns that doing so could cause infections to spike.

Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding if schools do not reopen, but he told a press briefing on Wednesday the decision would ultimately be up to state governors.

The White House said Trump would discuss the issue again on Thursday at a briefing at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).

Florida reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths on Thursday with 173 lives lost, according to the state health department.

On Wednesday, COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 1,100 for a second day in a row, including record single-day increases in fatalities in Alabama, California, Nevada and Texas.

The daily death tally is still well below levels seen in April, when on average 2,000 people a day died from the virus.

Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Writing by Sonya Hepinstall, Editing by Bill Berkrot

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