Texas and Ohio pushed ahead on Friday with a phased relaxation of restrictions that U.S. states put in place weeks ago to curb the coronavirus pandemic, as Georgia took another step toward a full restart by allowing all businesses to reopen.
With White House guidelines for reopening having expired on Thursday, half of all U.S. states were forging ahead with a patchwork of strategies to allow businesses, from restaurants and retailers to construction and manufacturing, to emerge from a month of dormancy.
In Texas, one of the most populous U.S. states, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls could resume activity on Friday while limiting capacity to 25 per cent of their listed occupancy, on orders of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The state has seen one of the lowest fatality rates in the country, with 812 reported deaths among its more than 27 million residents.
Ohio will start by allowing non-essential surgeries on Friday and then move to open construction and manufacturing on Monday, and retail shops and many consumer services on May 12, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said earlier this week.
States are feeling pressure to reopen businesses and restore social life, despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and other safeguards urged by health experts, as the outbreak appears to have waned across many parts of the country.
No companies are required to reopen and it was unclear how many business owners and their employees would return to work, and how many patrons would venture back into stores and restaurants.
‘Very significant risk’: Fauci
States, mostly in the South, the Midwest and mountain West, have moved to relax restrictions since Georgia led the way late last week. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said late on Thursday he was relaxing his state’s month-long shelter-in-place orders, allowing all businesses to reopen on Friday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said late on Thursday he was concerned about states and communities “leapfrogging” over the first phase of federal guidelines for reopening.
“Obviously, you could get away with that, but you’re making a really significant risk,” Fauci told CNN.
Phase 1 of the White House “Opening Up America Again” guidelines recommends states and regions satisfy a series of criteria including a 14-day decline in cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, a robust testing program and the health-care capacity to handle a possible surge.
They also recommend that Americans “maximize physical distance” and avoid social settings of more than 10 people and that employers encourage telework whenever possible and a gradual return to the workplace.
Large venues that include sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship can operate under “strict physical distancing protocols,” the guidelines state.
‘Very good people protesting’: Trump
President Donald Trump has given conflicting messages on the subject of reopening. In general, he has exhorted states to reopen safely as soon as possible, though he criticized Kemp last week.
On Friday, he appeared to support hundreds of protesters, some armed, who gathered Thursday at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing to object to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request to extend emergency powers to combat COVID-19.
WATCH | Michigan residents escalate protests:
While public polls suggest most Americans and most in Michigan support the stay-at-home orders for the time being, the state has seen several protests of what some consider the overreach of Whitmer’s strict stay-at-home order.
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely!”
While there is vocal contingent reflecting grass roots opposition in Michigan, there has also been evidence to suggest the protests are linked to established national Republican organizations.
As the economic toll of the pandemic has continued, with more than 30 million Americans filing for unemployment, some local officials have also chafed at orders from states.
On Friday, a rural California county became the first to permit nonessential businesses to reopen and allow diners in restaurants, defying Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s continuing statewide orders barring such moves during the coronavirus pandemic.
Modoc County is “moving forward with our reopening plan,” deputy director of emergency services Heather Hadwick said in an email to The Associated Press early Friday. She said the county still has no COVID-19 cases.
Hadwick said the county of about 9,000 in the state’s far northeast corner on the Oregon border had not heard back from the governor about its reopening plan, but she asserted that the plan aligns with Newsom’s indicators for reopening.
The number of coronavirus cases is still climbing in many parts of the country, although peaks appear to have been reached in New York state, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak, and other places.
Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin all reported a record number of new cases on Thursday, though greater testing could account for some of the increases, revealing infections present but previously undetected.
Several states, including Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia, posted new highs in their daily death tolls.
As of late on Thursday, the number of known infections nationwide had climbed to well over one million, including nearly 63,000 deaths.