(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday applauded steps by a handful of Republican-led U.S. states to reopen their economies, but New York’s governor, wary of a potential fresh surge of coronavirus cases, cautioned that it was “no time to act stupidly.”
About a half dozen U.S. states, mostly in the South, are loosening stay-at-home guidelines, allowing an array of non-essential businesses to reopen in the hope of reviving their devastated state economies.
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Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, gave these states a show of support on Twitter.
“States are safely coming back. Our Country is starting to OPEN FOR BUSINESS again. Special care is, and always will be, given to our beloved seniors (except me!),” wrote Trump, who is 73.
States and local governments previously issued “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders affecting about 94% of Americans to try to limit the number of new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
The restrictions have battered the U.S. economy, with mandatory business closures leaving millions of Americans unemployed. Political leaders have engaged in an acrimonious debate over when and how to reopen the economy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who met with Trump on Tuesday, said his state was showing more signs the worst was over, including a drop in hospitalizations. Even so, he warned of a potential “second wave” if restrictions are relaxed irresponsibly.
“This is no time to act stupidly,” Cuomo added. “More people are going to die if we are not smart.”
Cuomo acknowledged that local officials feel political pressure to reopen businesses but warned against making decisions based on such factors.
“We make a bad move, it’s going to set us back,” he said.
Cuomo said there were 474 coronavirus-related deaths in his state in the last day, the lowest since April 1. But that pushed the overall death toll in New York, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, past 20,000.
U.S. coronavirus deaths have exceeded 45,800 nationwide as cases climbed to more than 811,000, according to a Reuters tally. At current rates, U.S. deaths could reach 50,000 later this week.
A University of Washington model, often cited by the White House, now projects nearly 66,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Aug. 4, an upward revision from its previous projection on April 18 of a toll of about 60,300.
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Cuomo said his state will work with neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey to launch a joint program to trace the contacts of infected people to prevent further spread.
Cuomo said former New York mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg had volunteered to help develop the program. Bloomberg would make a financial contribution of “upward of $10 million”, Cuomo’s aide Melissa DeRosa said.
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ACTION BY TEXAS GOVERNOR
Greg Abbott of Texas on Wednesday became the latest Republican governor to signal his intention to start lifting restrictions. Abbott said he would announce a plan next week to broadly reopen the state’s economy during the first week of May.
“It’s going to be broad-based. We want to make sure we open as many businesses as possible,” Abbott told Fox Business Network. “However, we want to make sure we do it in a very safe way that does not stoke an expansion of the COVID-19.”
Georgia is giving the green light to gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo and massage parlors to reopen on Friday, followed by movie houses and restaurants next week. Republican Governor Brian Kemp ordered the actions.
Cherish Burnham, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mother from Roswell, Georgia, said she was stunned by the governor’s decision, saying it could put more lives at risk.
“I saw his announcement flash on my phone and my jaw dropped,” Burnham said. “It’s careless and will be catastrophic to countless more lives in our state.”
Rebecca Hardin, a 47-year-old hairdresser whose Atlanta salon was shut down amid the pandemic, expressed concern that Georgia risked a fresh surge of infections and loss of life by opening up too quickly.
“I want to get back to work, but I’m worried it’s too soon,” Hardin said. “Friday seems awfully early when we’re facing a deadly disease that has no cure or vaccine.”
Some Georgia restaurant owners said they will not reopen Monday even if it means losing money to competitors.
“I’m losing money every day and I’m worried about my staff, but it can’t be safe yet,” said Brian Maloof, whose family has owned Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta for more than 60 years. “I have 49 employees and I worry about each one of them, but I don’t want to put them or my customers at risk.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she planned to speak with Georgia’s governor to relay “a concern that many of the mayors have across this state: We aren’t there yet.”
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said on Wednesday schools in the state will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. McMaster on Monday issued an executive order lifting restrictions on access to public beaches and allowing the reopening of shops that sell such goods as furniture, clothing stores and flowers. The businesses were ordered shut two weeks ago.
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