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Many Americans' July 4 celebrations go virtual as COVID-19 cases surge


(Reuters) - On a holiday weekend that would typically draw crowds to watch fireworks, march in parades and wave the red, white and blue, many Americans kicked off Independence Day exactly where they have been for months: at home.

The holiday marking the country's 244 years of independence comes four days into a month when at least eight states have seen record daily increases in coronavirus cases, leading several governors to toughen social distancing measures and urge people to celebrate from home.

One notable exception to the weekend's lineup of remote festivities was a fireworks show scheduled for Friday at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, where U.S. President Donald Trump was expected to address a crowd of thousands.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem told Fox News this week that free masks will be provided at the event but mask-wearing will be optional and there will not be social distancing.

The organizers of the Macy's July 4th fireworks in New York City altered the traditional one-night extravaganza this year to prevent too many people gathering, instead running short nightly shows in each borough beginning June 29. Video of the displays will be aired on television on Saturday.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, reigning champion Joey Chestnut was expected to devour upwards of 70 franks on Saturday at the annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest, which was due to go ahead in front of TV cameras but no spectators.

The National Archives in Washington D.C., which houses the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776, had a virtual lineup of educational events planned, including the customary read-out of the foundational document.

Americans looking to throw their own celebrations would be banned from doing so on some of the nation's most famous beaches. Beaches were closed across Southern California and Southern Florida due to recent peaks in COVID-19 daily case counts in those states.

"COVID-19 does not take the summer off. Does not take the weekend off. And will not take 4th of July off," California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

In the northeast, where cases have subsided in recent weeks after spiking in the spring, beaches were open but governments urged people to avoid crowding.

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, where vacationers were expected to flock to the Jersey Shore over the holiday, raised the legal limit on crowd sizes for outdoor gatherings to 500 people on Friday but asked people to wear face masks and "use common sense."

In Texas, the seaside resort city of Galveston said its beaches would be closed during what is normally one of its busiest weekends and legendary singer Willie Nelson would be moving his annual star-studded picnic show online.

Officials in neighboring Brazoria County, however, said they had no plans to block access to their stretch of sands by the Gulf of Mexico.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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