State and local leaders are facing critical decisions in their battle against the coronavirus over the coming days as they grapple with whether to extend expiring stay-at-home orders or assess how much their reopening strategies are fueling new health risks.
Stay-at-home orders or business restrictions are set to expire between Friday and Monday (May 15 to May 18, 2020), in a dozen states, at the same time that other states surpass the two-week point since reopening, marking a critical checkpoint in the nation’s recovery.
But while just two states, Kentucky and North Dakota, have met the health criteria for reopening society that has been recommended by the White House, the majority of state leaders have now signaled they are ready to begin lifting restrictions. Public health experts have warned that the virus will continue to spread as more people begin leaving their homes, noting the difficulty of maintaining physical distancing in certain spaces as Americans return to their normal pre-pandemic activities.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed concern during a virtual Senate hearing this week that some cities or states might begin reopening prematurely, allowing “little spikes” to “turn into outbreaks” because they lack the capability to respond “effectively and efficiently.”
“The consequences could be really serious,” he warned.
President Donald Trump, however, tweeted Thursday that “good numbers” were emerging from states that were reopening, declaring that “America is getting its life back!”
One of the outliers: Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that the nation’s capital would extend its stay-at-home order through June 8. As it stands now, that would make the District one of the last jurisdictions in the nation to reopen.
“Together, by staying home a little longer, soon we will be able to reopen D.C. safely and sustainably,” Bowser said.
Neighboring Virginia will enter its first phase of reopening Friday, though Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order Tuesday allowing localities in Northern Virginia — where 70 percent of the state’s positive cases are — to remain on lockdown until May 28.
Maryland is also allowing Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which border D.C., to maintain stay-at-home orders while lifting them for the rest of the state. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the state will enter a “safer-at-home” stage Friday afternoon that urges older and more vulnerable residents to stay home as much as possible and for employers to encourage telework as retail stores, churches and personal services like barbershops and nail salons may reopen at 50 percent capacity.
Other states, including hard-hit New York and Louisiana, announced first steps in a gradual return to normal, as their governors seek to strike a balance between saving lives and reviving a stalled economy. The coronavirus has infected 1.4 million Americans and killed more than 84,000 people in the U.S. Nearly 37 million Americans have filed unemployment claims over the past two months.
New York state’s PAUSE order is set to expire Friday, but only the North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Mohawk Valley regions have met the state’s seven metrics to begin a regional phased reopening. Some low-risk businesses and recreational activities such as landscaping and gardening and tennis and drive-in movie theaters, however, will be ready to open across the state Friday.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an updated proclamation Thursday removing the state’s stay-at-home order and detailing which types of businesses can open and which must stay closed. Churches, gyms, fitness centers, barbershops, salons, casinos, theaters, and others can open Friday with 25 percent occupancy limits. State buildings will also be open to the public with
The death toll and number of hospitalizations are still rising in Minnesota, which has two hot spots and several counties where cases are doubling every seven to 14 days. Nevertheless, retail stores and Main Street businesses can reopen at 50 percent capacity on Monday. The state, however, is holding off on reopening bars, restaurants, barbershops and salons until at least June 1.
Massachusetts, which has begun to see case numbers tick down, is expected to detail its reopening Monday.
Twenty-eight counties in Oregon can begin reopening restaurants, bars, salons, and gyms on Friday. Three Oregon counties opted not to apply to reopen, and applications from two counties that saw a rise in hospitalizations over the past two weeks were rejected.
In Vermont, retail stores are allowed to reopen Monday, but only at 25 percent capacity.
Pools, gyms, and spas in Arizona already began reopening Wednesday, but the state’s stay-at-home order will expire Friday and be replaced by guidance for the economic recovery that will take effect Saturday.
This weekend also marks a critical two-week point since more than a dozen states began reopening in some form, including Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, and Colorado. The incubation period for Covid-19 is up to 14 days, meaning any new infections will just now begin to show up in the health data.
Health experts have credited stay-at-home orders for slowing the spread of the virus and flattening the curve.
“Once those start being eased, as soon as you have more people having more social contact, we are likely to see cases creeping up again,” warned Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing’s Department of Family and Community Health. “Masks will help, but masks are not a substitute for keeping away from each other.”
Politico: States are letting stay-at-home orders expire, regardless of virus metrics
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