WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday set yet another record for new coronavirus cases with 68,428 infections recorded in 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
In that period the death toll also climbed by 974 people, the Baltimore-based university's tracker showed at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Friday).
That brought the total death toll in the country since the pandemic began to 138,201, and the total number of cases to 3,560,364.
The US remains the hardest-hit country in the world in absolute terms.
Experts believe it never emerged from its first wave of infections, and cases have been surging again in recent weeks, particularly across the south and west in states that pushed to lift lockdown restrictions early.
Florida has emerged as the epicentre of the US outbreak, reporting a record 156 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and nearly 14,000 new infections.
The total number of virus cases in the "Sunshine State" has now surpassed 315,000, and there have been 4,782 deaths, according to Florida Department of Health figures.
Florida is now reporting more COVID-19 cases daily than any other state in the country. California and Texas are next, with about 10,000 new cases a day each.
Texas reported 10,000 new cases for the third straight day and 129 additional deaths. The state has seen a third of its more than 3,400 total COVID-19 fatalities in the first two weeks of July alone.
Florida reached another ominous record, with 156 virus deaths, and health officials reported a staggering 13,965 new cases.
South Carolina confirmed 69 deaths, more than double any other day. In Louisiana, where officials thought they had contained the virus earlier this year only to become a hot spot again, it's averaged more than 2,000 new confirmed infections a day over the past week.
Many of the governors leading states with the highest rising numbers had refused to mandate masks in public or prevented local officials doing so. While a number of them have reversed course — including Arkansas’ Republican governor — and at least 25 states now have mask rules, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp banned cities and counties from requiring face coverings and then sued Atlanta to prevent the city from defying his order.
Georgia's capital and 14 other cities had ordered masks be worn, but the Republican governor has maintained that no local directive can be more or less restrictive than his statewide mandates.
“How can we take care of our local needs when our state ties our hands behind our back and then says, ‘Ignore the advice of experts?’” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told reporters. He later added: “If you don’t want to protect us, then allow us the opportunity to protect ourselves.”
Arizona, meanwhile, has been so hard hit by the virus, the medical examiner's office in metro Phoenix has gotten portable storage coolers and ordered more to handle an influx of bodies — reminiscent of New York City at the height of the pandemic there earlier this year.
The Arizona agency’s regular morgue storage was 63% full Thursday. Marcy Flanagan, executive director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said many funeral homes are at capacity and unable to accept more bodies.
In Texas, the rising numbers are hitting big cities like Houston as well as smaller communities along the Mexico border. This month, Hidalgo County, about 220 miles (354 kilometers) south of San Antonio on the border, has reported more deaths than Houston's Harris County.
An 86-person Army team of doctors, nurses and support staff was setting up a nursing station at United Memorial Medical Center and expected to begin treating up to 40 patients in the coming days.
Some of the soldiers from around the country wore their uniforms. Others wore scrubs affixed with strips of surgical tape that had their ranks, names and medical titles.