US President Donald Trump appeared in public wearing a face mask Saturday, after long resisting, as the country broke its own record for new coronavirus cases in a single day, with more than 66,600 fresh infections documented in 24 hours.
The US has broken its own record in three out of the last four days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with the Friday total coming in above 66,600.
Trump donned the navy mask, with an official presidential seal, as part of a photo-op as he visited wounded soldiers in a military hospital. It's the first major such appearance, amid reluctance on the president's part to be seen in public with a face covering.
Masks are recommended by public health officials in situations where people are close together to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus during this pandemic.
"I've never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place," Trump said before he left the White House for the visit. He has at times appeared to mock people who wore masks.
While many people do were masks in various parts of the US, and some major restaurant and super market chains have mandated them, there is still pushback from segments of the public who see it as a violation of their freedoms.
The presidential photo-op came as numerous states are being inundated by new cases, with hospitalizations and deaths rising, at a time when some key other wealthy nations are managing to contain fresh outbreaks.
Florida, one of the states seeing the sharp spikes, reported more than 10,000 daily cases and 93 new deaths. Still, Disney resorts in the state are starting to reopen, beginning with the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, with mask wearing mandatory.
Florida Governor Ron De Santis rejected the idea that he had pushed his state to reopen too quickly, before the virus spread was under control.
This contradicts what Anthony Fauci, the government's infectious disease expert, has said. Fauci warned that states seeing surges of new cases moved too swiftly in recent weeks and did not follow guidelines.
During a press conference on Saturday, De Santis said he would not be imposing a mandatory mask requirement state-wide.
Texas, where cities are new epicentres, recorded more than 10,000 cases in a single day, as per the latest state data, breaking its own record.
"Alarming" spike in new cases
Georgia, also a hotspot, shattered its own record, with more than 4,000 new cases. However, a fight is brewing between the mayor of the state's main city, Atlanta, a Democrat, who is trying to roll back reopenings, and the governor, a Republican, who is refusing.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms warned of "alarming" spike in new cases.
The White House has downplayed the severity of the new outbreaks across multiple states, insisting, despite the evidence, that the rising caseloads are only due to expanded testing, and focusing on death rates.
While mortality figures have been in sharp decline, they are starting to tick back up, with places like Texas and Florida seeing sustained high levels, far surpassing their peaks earlier in the pandemic.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been urging citizens to wear masks, despite resistance, and warned he may have to impose new rules if cases and hospitalizations continue to climb.
Trump had previously been caught on camera once wearing a mask, when he visited a factory making ventilators in May. Many other top administration officials are regularly seen with facial coverings unless they are speaking.