A healthcare worker passes on paperwork at a Covid-19 testing site in Miami. Florida reported more than 311,000 cases in July, triple the number of the previous month © Lynne Sladky/AP

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An increase in Covid-19 cases across the US south and west this summer has led to July being the nation’s worst month for infections since the pandemic began, hindering efforts to reopen the world’s largest economy.

The US has confirmed almost 1.86m coronavirus cases since the end of June, representing 41 per cent of the total 4.5m infections since the start of the outbreak, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

The three most populous states — California, Texas and Florida — have emerged as the new hotspots for the virus in the US and made up a large portion of July’s increase in cases. They have overtaken New York as the states with the most infections since the pandemic began, with more than 400,000 cases each.

Those US states renewed curbs on some business activity and have recently shown tentative signs of new cases easing, but less encouraging trends have emerged elsewhere.

Record daily jumps in fatalities for several sunbelt states this week have echoed trends seen earlier during the pandemic. Officials are also increasingly warning of an outbreak in the Midwest and a resurgence of case numbers in the US north-east, as well as persistent nationwide delays in testing.

On Friday a further 1,308 people in the US died from the disease, according to Covid Tracking Project data. That is the 10th time in 11 days that fatalities rose by more than 1,000 a day, a trend most recently seen in mid-May. More than 67,000 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, keeping the daily increase below 70,000 for the past seven days.

500,000 Number of Covid-19 cases due to be confirmed in California

The spread of coronavirus outside the north-east, the initial hotspot in the US, has raised the prospect of a bumpier recovery than hoped after unprecedented shutdowns led to the most severe economic contraction in postwar history.

A deal between federal lawmakers aimed at extending financial aid to businesses and the unemployed remained elusive as of Friday, the same day supplemental jobless benefits expire for millions of Americans.

Florida has reported more than 311,000 cases so far in July, which is more than any other US state and triple what it confirmed in June. Last week President Donald Trump cancelled plans to hold the bulk of the Republican national convention in Jacksonville, Florida, saying he “just felt it was wrong to have people going to what turned out to be a hotspot”.

Bar chart of Total number of reported cases, July to date showing 70% of the 1.86m new US Covid-19 cases in July are from 10 states

California is this weekend set to become the first state to have confirmed 500,000 cases since the pandemic began. Just over half of these were added in July.

About 60 per cent of Texas’s 412,000 cases overall have been confirmed in July. A total of 19 states have added at least half their total pandemic caseload in July, according to FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

There have been tentative signs in some of those states that new infections might be reaching a plateau, which Mr Trump this week described as “encouraging”. The seven-day rolling averages for cases in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are all down at least 17 per cent from peak rates earlier this month.

However, those four states have all revealed record daily jumps in fatalities — seen as a lagging indicator — this week. July is set to be the highest monthly death toll for 16 US states, second only to April when 18 states reported their most fatalities, according to FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

More than 145,000 people in the US have died from coronavirus, with about 24,600 of those in July so far. That trails about 55,000 fatalities in April and almost 40,000 in May.

There are also signs the spread of the virus is proving hard to shake all around the country, which could further complicate plans in some states to bring students back to school in the autumn. Only four states — Arizona, Delaware, Maine and Utah — now have seven-day averages of new cases that are lower than they were at the end of June.

Deborah Birx, a top member of the White House coronavirus task force, told the Fox News channel this week that coronavirus was “moving up” into states including Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee “because of vacations and other reasons of travel”.

While infections have surged in July, the number of tests completed each day has grown substantially since the early days of the crisis, contributing to the increase in recorded cases. The US has regularly processed at least 700,000 tests a day in the second half of July and hit a record of more than 929,000 on July 24, according to Covid Tracking Project. Daily tests averaged about 515,000 in June.

Figures published each day represent positive tests and deaths recorded during the previous 24 hours. States will report data for the last day of the month on Saturday.

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