Governor gets virus as US cases surge

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has tested positive for COVID-19 after backing strong reopening plans.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has tested positive for COVID-19 after backing strong reopening plans.

Oklahoma's governor has been diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming one of the highest elected US politicians to get the disease as new infections in his state and neighbouring Texas surged by record numbers for a second straight day.

Texas, where the tally of known infections jumped by an all-time high of 10,791 cases statewide during the past 24 hours, also reported a record 110 additional COVID-19 deaths, its fourth such daily benchmark this month.

But Oklahoma, which reported a daily record of 1075 cases, became a focal point of the resurgent coronavirus outbreak after its governor, Kevin Stitt, announced he had tested positive.

Stitt, a Republican who attended President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa nearly three weeks ago, had faced a backlash in recent days after posting a photo on Twitter showing himself and two of his children at a crowded restaurant, even as state health authorities urged social distancing.

"I got tested yesterday for COVID-19, and the results came back positive," Stitt, 47, said in a video conference call with reporters.

"I feel fine, really, I mean you might say I'm asymptomatic or just slightly kind of a little bit achy."

Other elected leaders who have caught the virus include Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and about a half-dozen members of the US House of Representatives from both parties.

Stitt's diagnosis comes amid an upswing in COVID-19 cases across the American South and West after state and local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Across the country, new cases have been averaging around 60,000 a day.

Twenty-eight states have registered record daily increases in cases this month, many of them more than once, and 11 states have reported a greater number of deaths for a single day than ever before.

Moreover, the rate of people testing positive among all those who are screened has exceeded 5 per cent - a level above which health experts say is concerning - and was trending upward in some two dozen states over the past two weeks, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Arizona has registered the highest positivity rate, with nearly a quarter of everyone tested statewide found to be infected, followed by Florida at nearly 19 per cent, South Carolina at 18 per cent and Texas and Alabama each at 17 per cent.

Nationally, the total number of cases surpassed 3.5 million, by far the highest number of any country in the world, and more than 137,000 Americans have died from the virus to date.

Since Trump's June 20 campaign rally at an indoor arena in Tulsa, attended by several thousand people against the advice of public health officials, coronavirus cases in the surrounding county have risen to over 5200 - a 219 per cent increase over the last four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.

Eight staff on Trump's campaign tested positive around the time of the Tulsa event.

An influential mortality model developed by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected on Tuesday that the US death toll from COVID-19 would exceed 224,000 by November 1.

But it also said 40,000 lives could be saved if nearly all Americans wore masks in public.

Trump, whose popularity in opinion polls is declining ahead of an election in November, has been reluctant to embrace mask-wearing.

With infections surging for a second straight day in Alabama and a record daily death total there, Republican Governor Kay Ivey ordered all residents to wear masks, starting Thursday.

Australian Associated Press