The United States’ COVID-19 epidemic is once more blowing up at an exponential rate, even as leaders of some of the worst-hit states resist mandatory mask measures to stem the spread. Health authorities reported 78,000 new cases on Thursday, according to the database run by Johns Hopkins University. The number of patients hospitalized for the virus is at its highest level since April 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project.The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicenter, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday. Coronavirus is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the country including Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi.But New York, the original US epicenter where more than 32,000 virus patients have died, moved to further ease its restrictions after bringing its outbreak under control. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday zoos and botanical gardens could open with limited capacity, as could baseball games, without spectators.Trump briefings President Donald Trump’s ratings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic.Only 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis, against 51 percent in March, according to a Washington Post poll published Friday.Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said Friday the cause for the decline is because the president has stopped giving daily briefings on the virus.“The president’s numbers were much higher when he was out there briefing everybody on a day-by-day basis about the coronavirus,” she said, adding: “I think the president should be doing that.”The task force briefings featuring Trump were halted in late April amid mounting criticism over his exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the public health response and his penchant for pushing bogus treatments.“We’ve really got to regroup, call a time-out,” Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease specialist, told Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in a video chat Thursday.“Not necessarily lock down again, but say, ‘We’ve got to do this in a more measured way,'” he added.‘Do not be a sheep’States enacted lockdowns in patchwork fashion, and several skipped important epidemiological checkpoints before easing stay-at-home orders, said Fauci.Subsequently, many have been forced to pause re-opening, re-closing bars but also sometimes gyms, movie theaters, places of worship and shops.Some mayors have imposed mandatory mask orders. But in Georgia, the state’s Republican governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta’s mayor for issuing a face covering directive.“While we all agree wearing a mask is effective, I am confident Georgians do not need a mandate to do the right thing,” Kemp said.His lawsuit seeks to overturn not just the mask order but Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ return to a stricter lockdown.Bottoms, a Democrat who has herself tested positive for coronavirus, believes Kemp’s decision was political retaliation, telling CNN the suit came one day after Trump visited Atlanta when she pointed out he was breaking the law by being maskless at the airport.Similar conflicts abound elsewhere.In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott finally ordered a statewide mask order after seeing cases surge, but he has been condemned through censure resolutions passed by multiple local Republican officials.They accuse him of violating the party’s principles of separation of powers, free enterprise and personal responsibility, according to The Texas Tribune. The Democratic mayor of Houston, the state’s largest city, wants to move back into lockdown but the governor refuses.Many sheriffs — who are often elected officials — in California, North Carolina and elsewhere have said they won’t enforce mask regulations in their counties.“Do not be a sheep,” a sheriff in the state of Washington said in late June. The US epidemic began in the western state and cases there have started to pick up once again.