NEW YORK (Reuters) – The governors of New York and six other Northeastern states on Thursday extended their coronavirus stay-at-home orders to May 15, as President Donald Trump prepared to release new White House recommendations for states to follow in reopening the economy.
The governors have cited the apparent success of their social-distancing directives in curbing the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 32,600 Americans in a matter of weeks, while acknowledging they have wreaked economic havoc.
At least 650,000 people to date have tested positive in the United States for COVID-19, the highly contagious lung disease caused by the virus.
A total of 42 states have ordered residents to remain indoors except for necessary outings, such as grocery shopping or doctor’s visits, while closing schools, universities and non-essential businesses.
The unprecedented measures have strangled large swaths of the economy, idling at least 20 million workers, upending financial markets and leading to forecasts that America is headed for its deepest recession since the economic collapse of the 1930s.
Trump, who has staked his November re-election bid on the strength of the U.S. economy, has pushed for a May 1 restart of shuttered commerce – at least in regions least stricken by the pandemic – despite health experts’ warnings that doing so prematurely risks reigniting the outbreak just as it was being brought under control.
The debate over how and when to reopen the economy has led to growing friction between the Republican president and political leaders in the hardest-hit states, particularly Democratic governors whom he branded as “mutineers.”
Senior White House officials told Reuters that Trump had settled on a new set of reopening guidelines, backed by medical experts on his coronavirus task force. The plan will offer recommendations on when bars and restaurants, as well as sporting events and other large public gatherings should resume, the officials said.
‘THEY WANT TO WIN THIS WAR’
The recommendations are data driven and incorporate “certain medical-based metrics” that allow local authorities on a county-by-county basis to determine “where they fit,” one official said.
Trump previewed the new plan during a video conference with state governors and is set to announce it to the nation at a White House briefing later in the day.
Parts of it trickled out on Thursday afternoon, revealing a three-phase plan that could allow some states to begin as early as this month lifting limits meant to contain the disease’s spread.
In the first phase of Trump’s guidelines, larger venues such as restaurants and movie theaters could operate again with strict social distancing, according to a copy seen by Reuters. Non-essential travel could resume and schools could open their doors again during phase two. In phase three, medically vulnerable people could resume public interactions.
On Thursday, Cuomo and six East Coast counterparts who formed a regional pact this week to coordinate economic reopenings in their states – New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – announced their existing restrictions would remain intact through the middle of next month.
“What happens after that, I don’t know – we will see, depending on what the data says,” Cuomo, whose state is the U.S. epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, accounting for 40% of the country’s dead, said at a news briefing.
The New York state extension was ordered even though key metrics such as the rate of new hospitalizations pointed to an ebbing of the outbreak there.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Public health experts say a major expansion of testing to determine the full scope of the pandemic, track new infections and gauge the extent of any “herd” immunity in the general population is necessary before social distancing restrictions can safely be relaxed.
PATCHWORK OF STATE ACTIONS
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Thursday extended his state’s “safer at home” order until May 26, but carved out a new exemption for golf courses while extending curb-side pickup and delivery allowances to non-essential businesses.
Last week, Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, extended its restrictions to May 15, and the District of Columbia did likewise on Wednesday. Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Thursday extended his “Stay Home Missouri” Order through May 3.
In addition to the seven-state East Coast coalition, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state have vowed to work together on a West Coast reopening plan, and seven states in the Midwest on Thursday announced a similar alliance.
In the latest measure of the economic toll taken by the pandemic, another 5.2 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, lifting total filings for claims over the past month to more than 22 million.
“Really, there’s no comparable event in American economic history,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor recruiting site. “This crisis combines the scale of a national, if not global, downturn with the pace of a natural disaster.”
The number of known U.S. infections rose by at least 30,000 on Wednesday, the biggest increase in five days, according to a Reuters tally. But not all states have been hit equally hard.
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A handful of governors this week began talking about reopening their states as early as May 1, including North Dakota’s Doug Burgum, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, and Tennessee’s Bill Lee. Eighteen states have recorded fewer than 100 deaths from COVID-19.
Even within states, urban areas have been hit harder than rural areas. That divide has inflamed political and social divisions and prompted protests against state leaders who opted to keep residents at home.
In Richmond, Virginia, about 30 people gathered outside the state Capitol on Thursday in defiance of a stay-at-home order that the Democratic governor has instituted until June 10.
“STOP the MADNESS! It’s just a COLD VIRUS! End the shutdown for the GOOD of US all!” one of the demonstrators’ signs read. The state has recorded nearly 7,000 cases and 208 deaths.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington; Jessica Resnick-Ault and Maria Caspani in New York; Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Nathan Layne in Connecticut, Seth Herald in Lansing; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Frank McGurty and Alistair Bell
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