A surge in new cases of coronavirus in the midwest continues, as Donald Trump plans multiple rallies in the region and presidential rival Joe Biden heads out to campaign in Georgia.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recorded 60,789 new cases in the US on Monday, not far off all-time highs reached at the weekend. Total cases have surpassed 8.6m, with more than 225,000 deaths.
Trump continues to bleed political support from the perception that he does not take the virus seriously. Despite that, on Monday night he held a ceremony at the White House for supreme court justice Amy Coney Barrett, which was reminiscent of an earlier event linked to an outbreak of Covid-19 that infected the president himself.
Trump, Barrett, her husband Jesse Barrett, and supreme court justice Clarence Thomas appeared outside the White House without masks for a ceremonial swearing-in.
On Tuesday, Trump traveled to a rally in Michigan and planned to go on to events in Wisconsin and Nebraska the same day, on a pre-election blitz across three states where cases are rising most steeply. New daily cases in Michigan have more than doubled in the last week, while Nebraska has one of the highest rates of test positivity in the nation at 21.5% over the last week, according to Johns Hopkins.
Wisconsin, one of the most important electoral prizes, where the Democratic governor has asked Trump previously not to hold rallies that could spread coronavirus, broke one-day state records on Tuesday in Covid-19 deaths and cases as state officials told residents to stay home, wear a mask, and implored them to cancel travel and social gatherings.
The state had 64 deaths due to the virus and 5,262 new cases over the last 24 hours, state officials said during an afternoon news conference.
Thousands of supporters attended a Trump rally last week in Waukesha, Wisconsin, for which a local rural activist group rented out a billboard reading “Trump Covid Superspreader Event”, with an arrow.
Local doctors urged the president not to hold a rally on Tuesday evening in western Wisconsin.
“Returning to Wisconsin, repeating a reckless, risky event like a packed campaign rally is just asking for trouble,” said Robert Freedland, an ophthalmologist in La Crosse and state representative for the Committee to Protect Medicare, according to a local media report.
“In all likelihood, my colleagues in La Crosse will be putting on their N95 masks and dealing with the impacts of Trump’s super-spreader event long after he leaves. It is dangerous and it’s unacceptable,” Freedland said.
But the plea was likely to fall on unsympathetic ears in the Trump campaign, just as similar pleas did when the president held a rally in Janesville in the state earlier this month.
Meanwhile Joe Biden delivered speeches with social distancing measures in place in Georgia, which has recorded fewer than 1,000 cases a day over the last seven days and where test positivity is at 7.2%.
While Covid-19 hotspots are proliferating across the US, the states undergoing the most serious increases are Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and California, according to Johns Hopkins.
Vice-President Mike Pence, who continues to campaign despite having been in close contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases including his chief of staff, planned to speak in North Carolina and South Carolina on Tuesday.
Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, planned to speak in Nevada, where most voters vote early and Democrats are in a tough fight to keep the state blue.
Elections officials across the country have issued health safety guidelines for voters planning to visit polling sites in person.
The city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, advised voters to wear a mask, wash hands and maintain 6ft distance. In Michigan, the secretary of state issued personal protective equipment to all poll workers. More than half the teams in the National Basketball Association have taken steps to convert their facilities into safe polling places.
In states such as Texas that do not have a mask mandate, officials advised voters to take extra precautions.
“To prevent becoming infected from someone who has Covid and is not wearing a mask, be sure to wear a mask to the polling site that is of sufficient quality to protect not only others, but also yourself,” Erin Carlson, director of graduate public health programs at the University of Texas at Arlington, told Mirage News.
“Also, remember to carry your own black pen, stylus and hand sanitizer. If you don’t have a stylus, bring a wipe to wipe down the polling booth touchscreen before you use it.”
Residents in the border city of El Paso have been urged to stay home for two weeks as coronavirus cases threaten to overwhelm some hospitals, potentially keeping some voters away from polls.
“We are in a crisis stage,” said El Paso county judge Ricardo Samaniego.