By Lisa Shumaker
May 24 (Reuters) – Americans sunbathed on beaches, fished from boats and strolled on boardwalks this holiday weekend, but the occasional person wearing a mask was a constant reminder that the world is still battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The Memorial Day weekend that signals the start of the U.S. summer is normally a time when cemeteries across the nation fill with American flags and ceremonies to remember those who died in U.S. wars. This year the holiday week is when the U.S. death from COVID-19 is expected to exceed 100,000.
The New York Times filled its entire front page with the names and selected details of 1,000 victims on Sunday to try to capture the humanity of the lives lost.
“We were trying to capture that personal toll,” Marc Lacey, the newspaper’s national editor, told Reuters. “We were trying to humanize these numbers which keep growing and have reached such unfathomable heights that they’re really hard to grasp any more. …This is about everyday people. It’s about a death toll, reaching a number that’s really just jaw-dropping.”
Among the names, drawn from obituaries and death notices in hundreds of U.S. newspapers: Lila Fenwick, 87, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law; Romi Cohn, 91, saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo; Hailey Herrera, 25, budding therapist with a gift for empathy.
All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree. In some states, like Illinois and New York, restaurants are still closed to in-person dining and hair salons remain shuttered. In many southern states, most businesses are open, with restrictions on capacity.
Last week, 11 states reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases, including Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally. It is not clear if the cases are rising from more testing or a second wave of infections. Total U.S. cases are over 1.6 million, the highest in the world.
A plea by health officials and many state governors to wear masks in stores and in public is being met with protest and resistance from some Americans. Social media is filled with videos of businesses turning away a few angry customers who refuse to cover their mouths and noses.
“We need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance. It’s really critically important we have the scientific evidence of how important mask-wearing is to prevent those droplets from reaching others,” Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Few people wore masks on Saturday while walking on a crowded boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. Masks were also a rare sight on other beaches, but people mainly kept their distance in small groups and avoided playing games like Frisbee and volleyball.
“Personally, I’m not sure I’m worried about that, but for those who are worried … I suggest they stay home. I like to get out,” said Bruce Clark at Daytona Beach in Florida.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)