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Crowds cram beaches across U.S., raising physical distancing concerns

The Memorial Day weekend marking the unofficial start of summer in the U.S. meant big crowds at beaches and warnings from authorities Sunday about people disregarding the coronavirus physical-distancing rules and risking a resurgence of the scourge that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Sheriff’s deputies and beach patrols tried to make sure people kept their distance from others as they soaked up the rays on the sand and at parks and other recreation sites around the country.

In the Tampa area along Florida’s Gulf Coast, the crowds were so big that authorities took the extraordinary step of closing parking lots because they were full. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said about 300 deputies were patrolling the beaches to ensure people didn’t get too close.

On the Sunday talk shows, Dr. Deborah Birx, co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said she was “very concerned” about scenes of people crowding together over the weekend.

“We really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can’t social distance and you’re outside, you must wear a mask,” she said on ABC’s This Week.

In West Virginia, ATV riders jammed the vast, 1,120-kilometres Hatfield-McCoy network of all-terrain vehicle trails on the first weekend it was allowed to reopen since the outbreak took hold. Campgrounds and cabins were opened as well.

In Missouri, people packed bars and restaurants at the Lake of the Ozarks, a vacation hot spot popular with Chicagoans, over the weekend. One video showed a crammed pool where vacationers lounged close together without masks, St. Louis station KMOV-TV reported.

Revelers celebrate Memorial Day weekend at Osage Beach of the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., on Saturday. (Twitter/Lawler50 via REUTERS)

In Daytona Beach, Fla., gunfire erupted Saturday night along a beachside road where more than 200 people had gathered and were seen partying and dancing despite the restrictions. Several people were wounded and taken to the hospital, authorities said.

At New York’s Orchard Beach in the Bronx, kids played with toys and people sat in folding chairs. Some wore winter coats on a cool and breezy day as temperatures struggled to reach 16 C. Many wore masks and sat apart from others.

Death toll nears 100,000

The U.S. is on track to surpass 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the next few days, while Europe has seen over 169,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that almost certainly understates the toll.

The New York Times marked the horror by devoting Sunday’s entire front page to a long list of names of those who have died in the United States. The headline: “An Incalculable Loss.”

The cover of The New York Times is seen for sale in New York City on Sunday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump went golfing for the second day in a row at his private club in Virginia. Trump had not played for weeks before this weekend.

Trump said on the syndicated Sunday program Full Measure With Sharyl Attkisson that he is feeling fine after taking a two-week course of the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement to protect him against the virus, declaring, “To the best of my knowledge, here I am.”

U.S. President Donald Trump waves from a vehicle as he departs the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., on Sunday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The president has spent weeks pushing the drug against the advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals. Hydroxychloroquine can have deadly side effects.

The issue of wearing masks in public and staying several feet apart has become fraught politically, with some Americans taking to the streets to protest such rules as a violation of their rights.

People wear face masks onboard a plane at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Sunday. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

Repubican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, who has been targeted by such demonstrations, insisted the precautions should not be a partisan issue.

“This is not about politics. This is not about whether you are liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat,” DeWine said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Its been very clear what the studies have shown, you wear the mask not to protect yourself so much as to protect others.”

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