The United States headed into the Fourth of July weekend with many parades and fireworks displays cancelled, beaches and bars closed, and health authorities warning that this will be a crucial test of citizens’ self-control that could determine the trajectory of the surging coronavirus outbreak.
With confirmed cases climbing in 40 states, governors have ordered the wearing of masks in public, and families were urged to celebrate their independence at home. Even then, they were told to keep their backyard cookouts small.
Health experts agree this will be a pivotal moment in determining whether the nation slides into a deeper mess. The fear is that a weekend of crowded pool parties, picnics and parades will fuel the surge.
The warnings were sounded after a Memorial Day weekend that saw many people emerge from stay-at-home orders to go to the beach, restaurants and family gatherings. Since then, confirmed infections per day in the US have rocketed to an all-time high, more than doubling.
The United States set another record on Friday with 52,300 newly reported cases, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have been hit especially hard.
Despite it all, there will still be fireworks and community events scattered across the nation, with many taking social distancing into account.
Trump heads to Mount Rushmore
Under fire for his response to spiralling caseloads, US President Donald Trump headed to Mount Rushmore on Friday for a night of holiday fireworks that he hopes will provide a much-needed distraction from the pandemic.
On the eve of the country's Independence Day, the Republican leader was set to speak in the shadow of four of his notable predecessors: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose heads are carved into a granite cliff in South Dakota's Black Hills.
Trump has had little to say about the shocking increase in the number of virus cases in the US, though in a tweet late Thursday he said the rise was because "our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country," calling that "great news."
He added: "Even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN."
US testing has risen sharply, but health experts say it still lags, on a per-capita basis, behind many other countries; they say testing does not fully explain the case rise; and they note that deaths tend to increase only a few weeks after cases rise.
The pandemic has claimed nearly 130,000 lives in the United States, amid a sharp resurgence of cases, particularly in the country's south and west, which top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has said "puts the entire country at risk."