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Watching Sun Belt Spikes, Other States Back Off on Reopening

NEW YORK  — New York City and states that likewise seemed to have tamed their coronavirus outbreaks are hitting pause on some of their reopening plans because of the alarming surge in reported infections across the Sun Belt and other parts of the U.S.

The run-up in cases — blamed in part on "knucklehead behavior" by Americans not wearing masks or obeying other social-distancing rules — has raised fears that many states could see the same phenomenon if they reopen too, or that people from the South and West could spread the virus to other regions.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the city is delaying its resumption of indoor dining at restaurants — not because of any rise in cases in the city but because of upticks elsewhere. 

"Even a week ago, honestly, I was hopeful we could. But the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time," he said.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has roughly doubled over the past month, hitting 44,800 on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is higher even than what the nation witnessed during the deadliest stretch of the crisis in mid-April through early May.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, warned Congress on Tuesday that the rise across the South and West "puts the entire country at risk." New infections, he said, could reach 100,000 a day if people don't start listening to public health authorities.

"When you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they're doing well, they are vulnerable," Fauci said.

Outbreaks in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have already forced those states to backtrack and take such measures as shutting down bars and beaches and curbing restaurant capacity.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence planned to visit hard-hit Arizona, where stay-at-home orders expired in mid-May and daily new cases now regularly exceed 3,000. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday reversed plans to reopen indoor areas of bars and restaurants, saying: "I am watching what is happening in other states." 

Delaware, where daily cases are down to about 100 a day, also shut down newly reopened bars in beach communities and put off its "phase three" of reopening indefinitely.

In New Jersey, where cases had been declining since late April, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a pause on Monday, in part because of people not wearing masks and social distancing. 

"Unfortunately, the national scene, compounded by instances of knucklehead behavior here at home, are requiring us to hit pause on the restart of indoor dining for the foreseeable future," he said.

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