Coronavirus: Anti-mask activists rally in U.S. virus epicentre Florida

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Anti-mask activists on July 11 took their campaign to a grilled cheese bar and restaurant in Windermere, Fla., a state fast becoming the epicentre of COVID-19 in the United States.

The grilled cheese bar, 33 & Melt, has become a focal point of tension after its owner said it was not demanding face masks in her establishment.

In response, the activists organised the gathering, with a promise of 100 free meals for patrons who come without any masks.

The rally became tense when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents arrived at the restaurant and served the owner with a warning.

President Donald Trump, who has avoided wearing a mask in public even as the coronavirus pandemic spread, donned one on Saturday at a military medical facility outside Washington where he was to meet with wounded soldiers and front-line health-care workers.

Top public health officials have urged the use of masks to slow the spread of the virus. Critics say Trump’s refusal to wear one showed a lack of leadership.

Florida has emerged as an epicenter of COVID-19 infections in the country. Over the past two weeks, the state reported 109,000 new coronavirus cases, more than any other U.S. state.

The number of confirmed U.S. infections is over 3 million, according to a Reuters tally, stoking fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed. Nearly 134,000 Americans have died, a toll that experts warn will likely surge along with the rise in cases.

Overall, coronavirus cases are rising in 44 American states, based on a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.

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