California's governor has clamped new restrictions on businesses and the state's two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, say children will not return to class for the new term as coronavirus cases and hospitalisations soar.
Governor Gavin Newsom ordered bars closed and restaurants, movie theatres, zoos and museums statewide to cease indoor operations. He said churches, gyms and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.
"It's incumbent upon all of us to recognise soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy," Newsom said at a daily news briefing on Monday.
The governor called the move critical to stemming a new surge in COVID-19 cases that have strained hospitals in several of California's rural counties. "#COVID19 cases continue to spread at alarming rates," he tweeted.
The public school districts for Los Angeles and San Diego, two of the country's largest with a combined 706,000 students and 88,000 employees, said in a joint statement they would hold online-only classes, citing "vague and contradictory" science and public health guidelines.
The districts said countries that have safely reopened their schools have done so only after establishing declining infection rates and on-demand coronavirus testing.
"California has neither," the statement said, adding, "The sky-rocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control."
The union representing Los Angeles teachers applauded the strategy, saying it was backed by 83 per cent of its 18,000 rank-and-file members responding to an informal online poll last week.
The online-learning decision puts the two districts at odds with US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to punish school systems that refuse to reopen classrooms by withholding federal funding or even removing their tax-exempt status.
California, Florida, Arizona and Texas have emerged as the new US epicentres of the pandemic. Infections have risen rapidly in about 40 of the 50 states in the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.
Despite nearly 28,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last two days, Disney World in Orlando welcomed the public on Saturday for the first time since March with guests required to wear masks, undergo temperature checks and keep physically apart.
Walt Disney Co faces a starkly different response in Hong Kong where the government has ordered the Disneyland theme park to close due to rising coronavirus cases.
Australian Associated Press