States Eye Reopening Economies Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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Some governors have moved to lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 despite having not yet met federal guidelines for reopening.

By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder, Staff Writer

AFTER A WEEKEND MARKED by protests around the country, governors in a handful of states have started lifting restrictions that were put into place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Republican governors have announced plans to open parts of the economies in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas despite some having not yet met federal guidelines for reopening.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday that he would allow certain nonessential businesses to resume operations on Friday, with restaurants allowed to serve dine-in customers again starting next week.

n South Carolina, beaches and some retail stores are allowed to reopen this week as long as physical distancing is possible.

Gov. Bill Lee said that he will not extend Tennessee’s stay-at-home order past April 30, when it is set to expire. He said the “vast majority of businesses in 89 counties” will be allowed to reopen on May 1. State parks can reopen on Friday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week plans to allow elective surgeries, start curbside pickup for some retail stores and open state parks. He said additional announcements will come next week.

Elective surgeries will also be allowed to start again in Louisiana next week. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said Louisiana could be closer to reopening its economy by May 1. He said the state is on the trajectory to meet the federal criteria for beginning to reopen.

The White House issued federal guidelines for reopening state and local economies last week. To begin the first phase, an area must have demonstrated a downward trend in their documented cases or in their percentage of positive tests within a 14-day period. Hospitals must be able to handle all patients without crisis care and have a “robust” testing program in place for at-risk health care workers.

Georgia hasn’t yet met the criteria, but it is on track to do so, according to Kemp.

“Reports of ER visits for flu-like illnesses are declining, documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining, and we have seen declining ER visits in general,” Kemp said.

Still, local officials questioned the move.

“I am extremely concerned about the announcement the governor made,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told ABC News. “I hope that he’s right and I’m wrong, because if he’s wrong then more people will die.”

In Tennessee, Lee pointed to positive signs that the state is slowing down the virus. He said the state has seen single-digit percentage increases in the number of cases for 17 consecutive days, which still falls short of the federal guidelines.

South Carolina, which has already allowed some retail stores to reopen, has also not shown 14 days of declining cases.

When asked about this development during Monday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Deborah Birx said the decision ultimately lies with the governors.

“We have asked every governor to follow the guidelines, just as we’ve asked every American to follow the guidelines put out by the president,” Birx said. “But each of the governors can decide for themselves whether they’ve reached specifical guidelines in specific areas.”

While protests to get states to open back up show at least some are pushing for a faster process, a survey from Pew Research Center last week found that more respondents are concerned about state’s lifting restrictions too quickly rather than not quickly enough.

Health officials report more than 804,000 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and over 43,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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