July 12 (Reuters) - As Florida posts the biggest surge of coronavirus cases in the country, Walt Disney World in Orlando opened to the public for the first time in four months and anti-mask activists held a rally at a nearby restaurant.
Walt Disney Co welcomed a limited number of guests to its two most popular parks in Orlando on Saturday with a host of safety measures including masks and temperature checks.
Coronavirus infections are rising in about 40 states, according to a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks. Nationally, the United States has broken global records by registering about 60,000 new cases a day for the last four days in a row, according to a Reuters tally. Hospitalizations and positive test rates are also rising in the states at the center of the outbreak -- Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
Health officials have pleaded with the public to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus, but the issue has become politically divisive in the United States unlike many other countries that have seen far lower rates of infection and death.
Seven months into the pandemic, President Donald Trump wore a mask for the first time in public when he visited a Washington D.C.-area military medical center on Saturday. Trump had previously refused to wear a mask in public or ask Americans to wear face coverings, saying it was a personal choice.
Many Americans still refuse to wear a mask, which health experts say help stop transmission of the virus that has killed more than 134,000 Americans.
Anti-mask activists organized a protest on Saturday at a grilled cheese restaurant and bar in Windermere, Florida, which is in Orange County about 12 miles (19 km) from Walt Disney World.
The restaurant, 33 & Melt, has become a focal point of tension after owner Carrie Hudson said she was not requiring customers to wear masks. County officials have mandated the use of masks in public since June 20.
During Saturday’s protest outside the restaurant, no customers wore face coverings. Agents from the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco arrived during the rally and served Hudson with a warning, according to a video.
“This is a virus that is very well contained,” said one of the demonstrators, anti-mask activist Tara Hill. “Everyone is responsible for their own health care decisions ... We want our choices respected as well.”
Florida has posted record levels of coronavirus infections, with over 10,000 new cases five times in the last 10 days. In addition, more than four dozen hospitals in Florida reported that their intensive care units are full due to a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Reporting by Octavio Jones, Deborah Lutterbeck and Njuwa Maina; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis