The United States marked a subdued Fourth of July holiday with social distancing and restrictions on crowds preventing typical gatherings and fireworks from a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in southern and western states.
Racial rights protests were also planned in the US capital on Saturday, with President Donald Trump prepared to give a speech on the National Mall.
Trump promised a “special night” that could get tens of thousands of spectators, despite warnings about the dangers of spreading the virus from Washington, Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is powerless over the incident on federal land.
So far, nearly 130,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the country, among 2.8 million infections – the largest number of deaths and infections in the world.
On Friday, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alaska, Missouri, Idaho and Alabama all recorded daily highs for new cases, while Texas hit a new peak for hospital-related infections related to the virus.
Beaches, usually packed during the weekend, were largely closed on both coasts with Florida’s most populous county Miami-Dade ending the sand and imposing a curfew on residents.
Meanwhile in California, beach closures from Los Angeles County went north through Ventura and Santa Barbara. South of Orange County, hugely popular beaches such as Huntington and Newport were closed.
Fireworks, events canceled
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that mass gatherings, such as the one planned by the president, pose a high risk of spreading the virus.
During Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore, Republican Governor Kristi Noem, an ally of the president, insisted that social distancing was not necessary and masks were optional.
On Saturday, officials said they would distribute 300,000 face covers to spectators gathered at the National Mall. While Secretary of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said that visitors should be encouraged to wear masks and keep two meters away from each other, there was no indication that it would be mandatory.
In a patchwork of restrictions across the country, parades were interrupted, hilarious barbecue in the garden scaled down, and family reunions raised amid worries about air travel and concerns over the spread of the virus.
In New York, the famous annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, which is normally held on the narrow promenade of Coney Island, took place inside without spectators and special precautions for officials and workers.
Meanwhile, fireworks, a pillar of the holiday that usually attracts thousands of thousands to locations across the country, have been held this year with an estimated 80 percent of these events canceled.
Other places urged people to look at the screens of their cars.
Saturday also comes amid a backdrop of increased racial inequality in the country following the murder of George Floyd after a white police officer kneeled for nearly nine minutes in Minnesota on May 25.
Demonstrations have since become a common feature in many US cities, with several planned in the US capital.
The biggest protests on Saturday are expected to include a George Floyd Memorial March beginning at the Lincoln Memorial, a Black Out March on the US Capitol and a Black Lives Matter protest at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Public health officials have supported a new peak in coronavirus cases following the weekend’s celebrations and protests.