July 10, 2020 | 8:04pm | Updated July 10, 2020 | 9:58pm
Sun seekers gather at Clearwater Beach, which remains open despite high numbers of coronavirus disease infections in the state, on Independence Day.
Six U.S. states suffered record spikes in new COVID-19 cases on Friday and Florida, an epicenter of the pandemic, saw infections rise sharply for the second day in a row as the Walt Disney Co. stuck to its plans to reopen its flagship theme park in Orlando.
The surges in Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin put the United States on a pace to once again set a single-day record for new coronavirus cases as Walt Disney World became the latest flash point in a national debate over access to public spaces.
The Walt Disney Co. said the theme parks in Orlando would open on Saturday to a limited number of guests, requiring all visitors and employees to undergo temperature checks and wear face masks and cancelling parades, firework displays and other crow-drawing events.
Disney’s chief medical officer said this week that she believed the broad set of safeguards the company developed with health experts would allow guests to visit the park safely.
Roughly 19,000 people, including some theme park workers, have signed a petition asking Disney to delay the reopening. The union representing 750 Walt Disney World performers has filed a grievance against the company, alleging retaliation against members over a union demand that they be tested for COVID-19.
A Disney spokeswoman said Disney World would reopen without the performers after Actors Equity union representatives had not been available for further talks. Seven other unions reached agreements with Disney on returning to work.
Other theme parks opened in Orlando in June, including Comcast Corp’s Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc’s SeaWorld.
Florida recorded 11,433 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the state health department said, just short of the state’s record high and more evidence that it was at the center of the U.S. pandemic.
Florida does not disclose the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients but earlier this week more than four dozen Florida hospitals reported their intensive care units were full.
This month, Florida has repeatedly reported more new daily coronavirus cases than any European country had at the height of their outbreaks. Its positive test rate, at 19% earlier this week, is one of the highest in the country.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, angered some residents and medical experts by calling the spike a “blip.”
On Friday, DeSantis said that the state would receive more than 17,000 vials of the antiviral drug remdesivir from the U.S. government, adding: “That’ll be something that will hopefully help to improve patient outcomes.”
Scott Burkee, a 43-year-old former Disney employee from Davenport, Florida, said DeSantis “has shown zero effort to control the spread, he only becomes concerned when Trump does. The virus is clearly out of control.”
Trump, a Republican, traveled to Florida on Friday for an event at the U.S. military’s Southern Command and a campaign fundraiser.
The president has sparred with state and local officials and teachers unions over the reopening of schools and said on Friday the Treasury Department would re-examine the tax-exempt status and funding of those that remain closed.
Trump previously vowed to cut federal funding to the schools and eject foreign students attending universities in the United States unless their schools offer in-person classes, although most education funds come from state and local coffers.
The United States has the world’s highest known numbers of both COVID-19 cases and deaths. The number of confirmed U.S. infections is over 3 million, according to a Reuters tally, stoking fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed.
More than 133,000 Americans have died, a toll that experts warn will likely surge along with the rise in cases.
Overall, coronavirus cases are rising in 44 American states, based on a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.