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Coronavirus Cases Are Spiking & Experts Say Florida Has 'All The Markings Of Next Epicenter'

MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) -- Ten states, including Florida, saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases this week, and experts say the Sunshine State could be the next epicenter of the pandemic.

Florida has "all the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission," and risks being the "worst it has ever been," according to Wednesday's projections from a model by scientists at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.

"The potential for the virus to take off there is very, very nerve-racking and could have catastrophic consequences" because of the state's aging population and the prevalence of nursing homes and retirement communities, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN on Thursday.

Florida joins nine other states -- Alabama, Arizona, California, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas -- that are seeing record-high seven-day averages of new coronavirus cases per day, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Twenty-three states are seeing an upward trend in new coronavirus cases, and health experts continue to stress the importance of taking precautions to reduce the virus's spread. Despite the rising number of cases, the White House has downplayed the risks, with President Donald Trump saying Wednesday in an interview with Gray TV that the virus is "dying out."

With the White House narrative at odds with the data, health experts including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci have been absent from many public updates. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN it's because "they tell the truth."

"And the truth is that the pandemic is still very, very active in the United States and that we're not getting back to normal and there are difficult things that the public has to do," Reiner said.

How states are trending

According to data from Johns Hopkins University:

• 23 states are seeing upward trends in newly reported cases from one week to the next: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

• Eight states are seeing steady numbers of newly reported cases: Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Utah.

• 18 states are seeing a downward trend: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin.

• One state, Vermont, has seen a decrease of at least 50%.

Nationwide, more than 2 million people have been infected and 117,717 people have died of the virus. The virus claimed 755 lives Wednesday in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Officials downplay record cases

State officials are navigating the outbreak and managing the rising number of infections on their own.

Los Angeles County, which accounts for almost half of California's cases, reported Wednesday another single-day high of new cases. But officials attributed the county's increase to a lag in test reports.

Other politicians have also attributed higher case numbers to increased testing, but Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said surges are outpacing testing.

"When you see 50% or 150% increase in the number of cases you are seeing -- which is what we are seeing across the South -- that's not testing. That's new cases. That's community spread," he said.

Texas also reported a record-high number of daily Covid-19 hospitalizations on Monday, with 2,326.

Florida recorded nearly 2,800 new coronavirus cases on Monday -- its highest number of new and confirmed cases in a single day, according to the Florida Department of Health.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will not shut down. The governor attributed the spike in cases to increased testing as well as outbreaks in prisons, agricultural communities and long-term care facilities.

Some local officials are hoping to manage the spread by mandating mask usage.

A day after the city council failed to pass an ordinance, Montgomery, Alabama, Mayor Steven Reed implemented an executive order Wednesday requiring those in the city to wear face masks and coverings in public, according to a post from the city's official Twitter account.

Arizona physicians have called upon Gov. Doug Ducey to implement a similar executive order statewide. While the governor announced Wednesday that he would be calling up 300 National Guard soldiers to help with contact tracing, he said he would leave mask requirement decisions to mayors.

Some local leaders are unlikely to follow the mandate, rendering it "a self-defeating executive order," he said.

Earlier this week, nine Texas mayors, including those in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, urged Gov. Greg Abbott to give them the authority to require masks be worn in public "where physical distancing cannot be practiced."

The mayors and physicians have reason to believe the requirements could be effective. A study reported Tuesday found that an estimated 230,000 to 450,000 cases of the virus were prevented in states that required mask use between April 8 and May 15.

Large events yield positive coronavirus tests

Loosening precautions and restrictions means more people are gathering in larger groups, which has, in some cases, swiftly resulted in positive coronavirus tests.

Pinal County, Arizona, Sheriff Mark Lamb announced Wednesday that he tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-quarantining for at least 14 days. He likely encountered an infected person at a campaign event he held Saturday, he said.

The county Public Health Department is working to track everyone he came into contact with, he said on Facebook.

Earlier this week, a group of 16 friends in Florida said they all became infected with coronavirus after a night out at a recently reopened bar.

Still, Oklahoma, one of the states reporting a record-setting number of new cases, is scheduled later this week to host a campaign rally for Trump.

When questioned, Trump said he is not worried about attendees getting sick, though attendees must agree not to sue the campaign if they contract the coronavirus.

"Actually, Oklahoma has had a very low rate relatively speaking. It is a little spike, a small spike for a specific reason," he said. "We'll go there, everyone is going to be safe."

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma acknowledged Wednesday to CNN the rise in rates, but said the rally should not be postponed and "we are pushing people to be attentive on this."

(©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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