Texas has joined California, Florida and New York in a group Friday that no state wants to be a part of — those with 300,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The Lone Star State eclipsed that awful benchmark Friday by shattering its single-day record of new cases of COVID-19 with 14,780, and also topped its single-day record of deaths with 149, the latest NBC News tally showed.
And in a sign of how dire the situation in Texas could get, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending 14 refrigerated trucks to the state — on top of the eight FEMA trailers already there — to store bodies while local funeral homes have been stocking up on body bags.
“The directors I’ve talked to in the last week are at capacity or over capacity, thus the reason they had to bring in the trailers,” Gene Allen, president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, told CNBC.
That record new Texas number came after the U.S. set a single-day record for new cases with 72,878.
New York, which was the nation’s hot spot back in April and appears to have successfully flattened the curve, still leads the nation with 410,783 cases. But NBC News has calculated that Texas, Florida and California could pull ahead of the Empire State by the end of July if the current trend continues.
Since the pandemic started, Texas –- a state led by a Republican governor that started reopening at the urging of President Donald Trump even while the numbers of new cases was climbing — has logged 311,043 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,735 deaths, the figures showed.
Gov. Greg Abbott in recent weeks began mandating wearing masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus and, along with the governor of hard-hit Florida, closed down bars that appeared to be a major cause of the increasingly younger victims contracting it.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Trump and Abbott mistakenly downplayed the dangers of the pandemic and the effectiveness of wearing face masks to slow the spread.
“The messaging coming out of Washington and out of, from my governor very early in the process was that it wasn’t important, wasn’t necessary,” Adler said on CNN. “Then our governor started endorsing masking, but he wouldn’t make it mandatory. That sends a confused message. If it’s just recommended but not mandatory, is it really important?”
While Abbott now regularly wears a mask in public, last weekend was the first time Trump did so.
Trump’s reluctance to embrace a strategy that the vast majority of medical experts say is key to curbing the coronavirus spread has sown confusion among his followers and has turned wearing a mask into a loyalty test.
Utah, where dozens of defiant Trump supporters crashed a county board meeting Wednesday to protest against a proposed mask-wearing mandate, set a record Thursday for new cases with 954, NBC News figures showed.
Nearby Nevada also set a new daily record Thursday with 1,447 new cases. And Mississippi on Friday reported that, for the first time, it has recorded 1,000-plus new cases for the third day in a row.
In other developments:
With new poll numbers showing a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Trump has handled the COVID-19 crisis, key members of his administration and reelection campaign rushed to his defense. “This president has taken decisive and bold actions from the beginning,” senior campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp told CNN. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump has “done a solid job leading us through it.” But earlier this month Trump was still insisting the pandemic would “just disappear.” And from the start Trump has regularly downplayed the dangers of a plague that has killed nearly 140,000 Americans and tanked the thriving economy he inherited from his predecessor.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, made good on his threat and yanked $13 million in federal COVID-19 aid from Lebanon County after local Republican leaders voted in mid-May to reopen the county in defiance of Wolf’s orders. “Don’t come and say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules,” Wolf said Thursday. “There are consequences. These are the consequences.” Rep. Dan Meuser, a Republican whose district includes the county, said Wolf lacked the legal authority to withhold the aid money.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, released what’s being called a “hybrid model’ plan for getting the city’s nearly 400,000 public school students back in the classroom come September. It calls for students to be in for two days, then off for two days, and learning in isolated “pods” inside school buildings. There will also be a “virtual instruction'” day for all students. Lightfoot’s team cautioned that this was a proposed “framework” that would be revisited and revamped if the city’s COVID-19 caseload suddenly spiked.
In Michigan, which has seen an uptick in new cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that “strengthens’ the existing mask mandate by requiring businesses to “not assume that an unmasked customer cannot medically tolerate a face covering.” It also requires law enforcement to “to wear a face covering unless doing so would seriously interfere in the performance of their responsibilities.” Whitmer is a Democrat.
Two days ago Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp –- a Republican and Trump ally who also only recently began wearing a mask — banned more a dozen local governments from mandating them. And when Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat who has tested positive for COVID-19 said she would not abide by the ban, Kemp on Thursday sued her and the Atlanta City Council.
“A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” Bottoms said. “If being sued by the State is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”
Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia insisted Friday this dispute “is not about people not wearing masks.”
“What Mayor Bottoms is doing is auditioning for vice president,” Collins said on Fox News.
Bottoms, one of several prominent Democratic leaders that Joe Biden has been vetting to be his running mate, told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle later Friday that Kemp is “putting politics over people.”
“It is mind-boggling that this governor, who did not know that this virus was asymptomatic until we were well into the pandemic, would waste resources on suing me personally and our city council for a mask mandate,” Bottoms said.
Kemp admitted in April that he had only just learned that asymptomatic individuals could spread COVID-19 — even though health experts had warned about the possibility as early as January.