By IVAN PEREIRA, JANET WEINSTEIN and JP KEENAN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — After showing some signs of progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve, America saw a jump in cases throughout June, especially in states that eased back their pandemic safeguards early.
Over the course of the month, the country saw over 820,000 new cases and lost nearly 22,000 lives to the virus, according to health data. In total there were over 2.6 million confirmed cases and over 126,000 deaths in the U.S.
June kicked off with massive protests in major cities calling out police violence and racism following the death of George Floyd. Health officials expressed concern about the pandemic’s spread as video of large crowds in New York City, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Los Angeles appeared daily.
John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News that social gatherings, in general, are a leading cause for the rise in COVID-19 cases; however, risks were mitigated with facial coverings and social distancing. Increased testing in those locations also helped to track the disease.
“These are important activities that people are undertaking and it is possible to do so in a safe way and in a broad sort of effort to protect those who are practicing their right to protest,” he told ABC News.
At the same time the protests were going on, states continued to ease their coronavirus precautions, allowing more businesses such as indoor restaurants, malls and factories to reopen. New York City, which is the epicenter of the outbreak with over 212,000 cases at the end of June, saw significant progress as the number of new cases dropped exponentially from the beginning of the month.
The progress prompted hundreds of thousands of city employees to return to work.
Cities in other parts of the country, however, have a different story.
Areas of Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia and other states saw the number of new cases skyrocket. Texas in particular had 93,418 cases in June, an average of 3,113 cases a day, according to its health department. On June 30, it saw a record of 6,975 cases, the health department said.
Those states were some of the first locations to reopen their business and relax their safety restrictions when it came to crowds. Leaders of municipalities such as San Antonio, Tampa, Florida and Houston pushed for tougher restrictions, including mandatory face coverings and a reduction of crowds, but governors only started issuing new health safeguards by the end of the month.
“In states that are experiencing real sort of resurgences, unfortunately that does mean that gatherings should really be limited,” Brownstein said.
By the middle of the month, the U.S. crossed a grim milestone: two million confirmed cases.
Despite the troubling data, President Trump pushed on with his campaign plans and held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just as the number of new cases was going up. On the day of the rally, two campaign staffers tested positive and although the crowd was sparse, several of Trump’s supporters were seen not wearing a face covering.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence didn’t support a mandatory face covering order for the country and left the decision to local leaders.
Brownstein said face coverings “can actually have a real impact on population health” as the pandemic increases.
As the summer progresses, Brownstein warned that the country could see the increases throughout the coming weeks and Americans need to take the health precautions seriously.
“There’s been a lot of talk about waves. Are we out of the first wave? When is the second wave? I think we have to remove that from our discussion because I think it creates confusion,” he said. “It makes us safe to assume that the summer is going to save us and that’s clearly not happening.”
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