By Lisa Shumaker and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – U.S. deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday, a number higher than in any other country and nearly a quarter of the world’s total, according to a Reuters tally.

Of the 20 countries with the biggest outbreaks, the United States ranks sixth in deaths per capita, at 4.5 fatalities per 10,000 people.

Only the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Peru and Chile have a higher per capita rate, the tally shows, with U.S. deaths making up nearly 23% of the global total of just over 661,000.

The increase of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June. (https://tmsnrt.rs/2P87LUu)

The pace of infections has accelerated since the U.S. death toll passed 100,000 on May 27. The epicenter has also moved, to the South and West from the area around New York, which still has by far the highest toll for one state at more than 32,000.

Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Texas each reported record spikes in fatalities on Tuesday.

The rising numbers have crushed early hopes the country was past the worst of an economic crisis that has decimated businesses and put millions of Americans out of work.

Health experts have been saying for months that the U.S. outbreak could be brought under control if guidelines to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public were followed everywhere.

Such measures became a hot partisan issue after President Donald Trump, who initially played down the seriousness of the health crisis after the first U.S. case in January, refused to wear a mask.

Trump has since come around to supporting masks but has still not imposed a national mandate requiring them.

On Wednesday, Florida reported another record increase, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department.

Florida commercial pilot Rob Koreman, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, said he had been stunned by the climbing numbers.

“I’m a pilot and hit so many cities, so many people on board, I have to be aware,” he said. “Basically, none of this should have happened. We needed state coordination, if not flat-out a federal mandate.”

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INDOOR PARTIES

Louie Gohmert, a Republican lawmaker from Texas who has refused to wear a mask in the past, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising concerns that other members of Congress may also have been exposed.

Attorney General William Barr, who testified to a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that Gohmert took part in, will be tested for coronavirus as a result, a Justice Department spokesman said.

In a video posted to Twitter, Gohmert said he had worn a face mask frequently in the past week or two, including at Tuesday’s hearing.

Officials in New Jersey, the state with the second highest death toll, again pleaded with young people to avoid large gatherings that have been a breeding ground for the virus. Governor Phil Murphy singled out some parties that have led to clusters of new cases.

“Coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors. Crowded indoor house parties are not smart or safe,” he wrote on Twitter.

With the scheduled reopening of schools days away in some states, the Trump administration is pushing for students to return to classrooms, while some teachers and local officials have called for learning to remain online.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), whose forecasts are closely watched by policymakers including the White House, first predicted in March that the pandemic could kill more than 81,000 by July after easing in June.

In its latest statement on July 14, the IHME said its model now projects the U.S. death toll at more than 224,000 by Nov. 1.

It also said that number was not set in stone.

“Use of masks is up, but not as high as it should be. If 95% of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes, infection rates would drop, hospitalizations would drop, and forecast deaths would drop,” the IHME said.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Maria Caspani and Susan Heavey; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller)



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