By Peter Szekely and Doina Chiacu

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Thursday that he was halting his state’s phased economic reopening in response to a jump in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, as the number of new daily cases around the country climbed to a near-record high.

Texas has seen one of the biggest surges in new coronavirus cases in the United States, reporting a record of over 6,000 new cases in a single day on Monday. The state has set record hospitalizations for 13 days in a row.

“This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business,” Abbott said in a statement.

Texas’ rising numbers are part of a nationwide surge concentrated on states that were spared the brunt of the initial outbreak or moved early to lift restrictions aimed at curbing the virus’ spread.

More than 36,000 new U.S. cases were recorded on Wednesday, a few hundred shy of the record 36,426 on April 24.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar played down the rise as “localized.”

“So we’re working aggressively with states and local leaders in this situation but it’s important for the American people to know this is a localized situation, the counties that are in hotspots are 3% of American counties,” Azar told Fox News.

“That’s not to minimize the situation. It’s really important that we get to the bottom of why we’re seeing the surge in cases.”

The focus of the pandemic has moved to the U.S. West and South, including more sparsely populated rural areas, from the early epicenter around New York, where more than 31,000 deaths were recorded, more than a quarter of the country’s total.

The numbers in the Northeast dropped after governors imposed severe lockdown measures, some of which remain in place in hardest-hit New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that his state reached a new milestone as the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 fell to 996, the first time since March 18 below 1,000.

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“Together we bent the curve,” he said on Twitter. “And we aren’t stopping now.”

The number of daily deaths in New York also has been in a long-term decline, dropping to 17 on Wednesday from a high of more than 1,000, Cuomo said earlier on CNN.

Texas is among 12 states that have reported record rises in cases this week, also including Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Wednesday ordered travelers from eight states, as well as tri-state residents returning from those areas, to self-quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

Cuomo, a Democrat, accused Republicans, including President Donald Trump, of putting politics and business above science in their handling of the outbreak.

“You played politics with this virus and you lost,” he said on CNN.

Apple Inc <AAPL.O> said on Wednesday it would shut seven of its retail locations in Houston again due to the surge in Texas, joining closures in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Shares of Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> opened 2% lower on Thursday after it delayed the reopening of theme parks and resort hotels in California until it receives approval from state officials, as the state is hit by a huge spike in new coronavirus cases.

The company has also come under pressure to delay the July 11 reopening of Walt Disney World in Florida.

While some of the increased numbers of cases can be attributed to more testing, the percentage of positive results is also climbing.

(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR in an external browser for a Reuters interactive)

Graphic – Where coronavirus cases are rising in the United States: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/index.html

Graphic – Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S.: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


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