President Donald Trump travelled to Florida on Friday despite the widening coronavirus outbreak in the state, which reported a near record increase in new infections and related fatalities over the past 24 hours.
Mr Trump arrived in Miami, where he was due to discuss drug interdiction efforts with the US Navy admiral in charge of American forces in Latin America.
But the visit risked being overshadowed by data published by Florida’s health department showing 11,433 new cases in the state, just short of a record one-day increase. It also tallied 92 fatalities, marking the third day in a row deaths have topped 90 after weeks in which the death toll rarely exceeded half that number.
Investors were spooked on Thursday after Florida recorded a record one-day increase of 120 fatalities. On Friday, Wall Street recovered from the previous day’s losses, with the S&P 500 up about 0.5 per cent in afternoon trading.
Mr Trump has come under criticism for travelling to coronavirus hotspots in recent weeks, with public health officials raising concerns that his signature campaign-style rallies could help spread the virus.
The president is not due to hold a large-scale public event in Florida, however, and the White House announced that a weekend rally in New Hampshire would be postponed for “a week or two” because of a storm due to hit on Saturday.
Bruce Dart, the health director for the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said earlier this week that the high-profile rally Mr Trump held in the city last month “more than likely” contributed to a sudden uptick in the number of cases in the city.
Asked why Mr Trump was travelling to Florida at a time state resources were taxed with the rising outbreak, Kellyanne Conway, the presidential adviser, said it was important to highlight drug interdiction efforts as well as support Venezuelan exiles working against the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
The rise in infections on Friday came as Florida conducted a larger-than-usual number of tests, bringing the rate of positive tests back below 18 per cent for the first time since July 4, based on a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
The group’s count does not include a relatively small number of inconclusive tests, which Florida includes as part of its overall tally. Florida’s mortality rate also fell to 1.72 per cent, the lowest level since early April.
Florida, Texas and California — the three most populous states in the US — each saw a record jump in deaths on Thursday after reporting a spike in new infections in recent weeks.
US officials have remained hopeful that efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus are taking hold, saying data has shown that infection rates may be starting to stabilise.
In Arizona, the number of Covid-19 patients currently hospitalised fell by five to 3,432, the state’s health department said. The percentage of adult intensive care beds in use held at 89 per cent.
The state reported 44 additional deaths on Friday, down from 75, and 4,221 new confirmed cases. The positivity rate dipped below its average over the prior seven days as testing increased.