By Brad Brooks

LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Thursday that he was halting his state’s reopening plan in response to a jump in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, as the number of new daily cases around the country climbed to a near-record high.

Texas, which has been at the forefront of states’ efforts to reopen after shutting down to curb the spread of the coronavirus, has seen one of the biggest surges in new cases, reporting over 6,000 new cases in a single day on Monday.

“This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business,” Abbott said in a statement.

Texas has also set record hospitalizations for 13 days in a row. Earlier, Abbott suspended elective surgeries in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to free up hospital bed space.

Texas’ rising numbers are part of a nationwide surge concentrated on states that were spared the brunt of the initial outbreak or moved early to lift restrictions on business and social activities aimed at curbing the virus’ spread.

More than 36,000 new U.S. cases were recorded on Wednesday, a few hundred shy of the record 36,426 on April 24.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar played down the surges as “localized.”

“So we’re working aggressively with states and local leaders in this situation but it’s important for the American people to know this is a localized situation, the counties that are in hotspots are 3% of American counties,” Azar told Fox News.

“That’s not to minimize the situation,” he said.

The focus of the pandemic has moved to the U.S. West and South, including more sparsely populated rural areas, from the early epicenter around New York, where more than 31,000 deaths were recorded, more than a quarter of the country’s total.

In response, Oregon and Utah have also paused or slowed lifting the restrictions that have decimated local economies. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday declared a budget emergency due to the pandemic.

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New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Wednesday ordered travelers from eight states, as well as tri-state residents returning from those areas, to self-quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that New York, which imposed some of the most severe lockdown measures, reached a new milestone as the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell to 996, the first time since March 18 below 1,000.

“Together we bent the curve,” he said on Twitter. “And we aren’t stopping now.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, accused Republicans, including President Donald Trump, of putting politics and business above science in their handling of the outbreak.

“You played politics with this virus and you lost,” he said on CNN.

Texas is among 12 states that have reported record rises in cases this week, also including Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.

While some of the increased numbers of cases can be attributed to more testing, the percentage of positive results is also climbing.

Apple Inc <AAPL.O> said on Thursday it would close 14 stores in Florida due to the rise in coronavirus cases, following an earlier round of re-closures in Texas, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Shares of Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> were 2% lower on Thursday after it delayed the reopening of theme parks and resort hotels in California until it receives approval from state officials.

The company has also come under pressure to delay the July 11 reopening of Walt Disney World in Florida.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

(Graphic – Where coronavirus cases are rising in the United States: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/index.html)

(Graphic – Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html)

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)



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