ATLANTA: 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 prematurely could trigger a surge of coronavirus cases.
The easing of sweeping restrictions in Georgia, South Carolina and other states follows protests in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and elsewhere to ease rules imposed during the pandemic that shut down businesses and largely confined residents to their homes.
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that a majority of Americans believed that stay-at-home orders should remain in place until public health officials determine that 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.
Georgia had shown seven days of declining case numbers, according to state figures, half of the 14 days recommended by federal guidelines.
Nationwide nearly 45,000 people have been killed by COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, and more than 800,000 people have tested positive for the disease, according to a Reuters tally.
In harder-hit states, 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 a necessary step in reducing exposure and enabling a safe reopening.
In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Democratic Governor Tony Evers, challenging his stay-at-home order that runs until May 26, as the issue of when to reopen state economies has become increasingly political.
'DON'T GO OUT'
Infectious disease experts say the United States, with a population of nearly 330 million, should test roughly 3 million people each 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.
In Washington, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday 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.
Georgia is among a half dozen states that will allow more business activity this week or next.
Brian Kemp, Georgia's Republican governor, will allow gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and massage parlors to reopen on Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants next week. The order has raised criticism by some public-health experts and local officials.
Kemp described his plan as a measured approach that balances public health with the need to reignite the state's economy, saying stay-home orders and social distancing would remain in place to stanch the outbreak.
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 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.
On Monday, Georgia reported 1,242 new infections over the past 24 hours, their highest single-day tally in two weeks. And 94 people died, double the state's previous daily record.
"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, which has recorded nearly half of the country's COVID-19 deaths, said he would discuss the shortage of testing during a meeting with Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
Although the outbreak appears to be past its peak in New York, Cuomo has insisted on a go-slow approach to reopening.
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, the most populous state, said on Tuesday that despite evidence the outbreak was slowing there, the total 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.
Newsom promised to release a more detailed plan for testing and reopening on Wednesday, but cautioned that it was too soon to loosen public health restrictions.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, has restored access to public beaches and allowed some retailers to open, with social distancing measures still in place.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said on Tuesday his state will implement a "planned and phased" reopening for retail businesses, restaurants and close-contact services. He said some businesses will be able to safely open on Monday.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, with the second-largest economy in the country, said his state was moving toward reopening but gradually, a process that could be reversed in the event of new outbreaks. - Reuters