Political wrangling, controversy mark re-opening of U.S. states

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Governors of about half a dozen U.S. states pushed ahead on Tuesday with plans to partially reopen for business despite warnings by some health officials that doing so could trigger a new surge of coronavirus cases.

The easing of sweeping restrictions in Georgia, South Carolina and other mostly Southern U.S. states follows protests against rules imposed during the pandemic that shut down businesses and largely confined residents to their homes.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed a majority of Americans believed stay-at-home orders should remain in place until public health officials determine lifting them is safe, despite the damage to the U.S. economy.

“It’s a matter of concern, this whole idea of opening up. It’s based on non-science generated parameters,” Dr. Boris Lushniak, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told Reuters in an interview.

Deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, topped 45,000 nationwide as cases climbed to over 800,000, according to a Reuters tally. [L2N2C918J]

New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan each reported their highest single-day coronavirus-related death tolls – over 800 between the three states. New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, reported 481 new deaths.

Governors are under pressure from businesses and some constituents to relax stay-at-home orders that have thrown over 20 million people out of work in the past month alone.

In Wisconsin, the pressure came from Republican lawmakers who filed a lawsuit against Democratic Governor Tony Evers, challenging his stay-at-home order that runs until May 26.

‘DON’T GO OUT’

Tensions between U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, and local officials have risen over the U.S. government’s role in ramping up testing, which infectious disease experts say is necessary to enable a safe reopening.

Infectious disease experts say the United States, with a population of nearly 330 million, should test 3 million per week to get an accurate sense of the virus’s reach, whereas states have tested only a third of that number in the past seven days, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned a second wave of the coronavirus will be far more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of seasonal flu season.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Georgia is among a half dozen states that will allow more business activity this week or next.

Lindsey Leinbach takes a swab to test for the coronavirus at a One Medical testing facility built to help with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the Bronx borough of New York City, U.S., April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, will allow gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo and massage parlors to reopen on Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants next week. The order has been criticized by some public-health experts and local officials.

Kemp said his plan balances public health with the need to reignite the state’s economy, saying social distancing rules would remain in place.

Georgia has reported 174,000 positive cases and six deaths per 100,000 people, both below the national average, according to a Reuters analysis of data collected by the Covid Tracking Project.But the state also has one of the lowest testing rates, ranking 42nd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, giving health officials less data on the reach of the illness to base decisions on reopening, the data showed.

“Don’t go out,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, a Democrat, told residents of the eastern Georgia city during a news conference. “People will not come here if they think our businesses are not safe.”

CUOMO MEETS TRUMP

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, where nearly half of the country’s COVID-19 deaths have been recorded, met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday and described their discussion as “honest and open.””I wanted to have a face-to-face conversation, particularly on testing. We have go get this ironed out. This is a very big issue,” Cuomo told MSNBC following the meeting.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, the most populous U.S. state, said despite evidence the outbreak was slowing there, cases and deaths were still rising.

Over the seven-day period ending on Sunday night, the number of deaths in California nearly doubled, and the number of new cases increased by nearly 50%, state data showed.

Slideshow (22 Images)

Newsom promised to release a detailed plan for testing and reopening on Wednesday, but cautioned it was too soon to loosen public health restrictions.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate unanimously approved $484 billion in additional coronavirus relief for the U.S. economy and hospitals treating patients sickened by the pandemic, sending the measure to the House of Representatives for final passage later this week.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Andy Sullivan in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Maria Caspani and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Grant McCool and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lincoln Feast.

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