New York, California among US states planning reopening of economies after coronavirus shutdown

A worker walks though a nearly empty Times Square in New York City.
A worker walks though a nearly empty Times Square in New York City.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Seven North-eastern US states and three on the West Coast formed regional pacts on Monday (April 13) aimed at coordinating a gradual reopening of their economies without a resurgence of coronavirus infections just as the outbreak appeared to be starting to wane. 

New York, by far the hardest hit state, will work closely with nearby New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to devise strategies for jointly easing stay-at-home orders imposed last month to curb coronavirus transmissions, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Massachusetts later announced it was joining the East Coast coalition. 

“Nobody has been here before, nobody has all the answers,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said during an open conference call with his five counterparts.

“Addressing public health and the economy: which one is first? They’re both first.”

Separately, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced a similar agreement to devise a shared approach for lifting social-distancing measures, saying they “need to see a decline in the rate of spread of the virus before large-scale reopening” can take place.

The 10 state leaders, all Democrats except for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, gave no timeline for ending social lockdowns that have collectively idled the vast majority of more than 100 million residents in their states. 

But they stressed that decisions about when and how to reopen non-essential businesses, along with schools and universities, will put the health of residents first and rely on science rather than politics.

The joint planning reflected growing concern among health officials and political leaders that easing stay-at-home orders too soon could allow the pandemic to re-accelerate, undoing hard-won progress the country has made in recent weeks.

US President Donald Trump, a Republican who before the pandemic had touted a vibrant US economy as the centerpiece of his re-election bid, has pressed repeatedly in recent weeks for getting Americans back to work soon.

Ahead of the governors’announcement on Monday, he declared that any decision on restarting US commerce was his to make. 

Tensions between governors and Trump have bubbled up since the public health crisis worsened a month ago, and have re-emerged in the debate over economic imperatives versus public health priorities. 

Pressed on the question of whether governors or the federal government would make the decision to reopen schools and closed businesses, the president said that he had ultimate authority.

"The president of the United States calls the shots," Trump said in his daily news briefing. "That being said, we're going to work with the states."

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1249712404260421633

Legal experts say the president has limited power under the US Constitution to order citizens back to their places of employment, or to require cities to reopen government buildings and transportation, or to order local businesses to reopen. 

‘WORST IS OVER’ BUT...

Cuomo said on Monday that “the worst is over” for his state, the US epicentre of the virus, but he hedged his remark with a warning that gains achieved through social distancing could be undone if “we do something stupid” and relax those restrictions too quickly.

“We can control the spread. Feel good about that,” Cuomo said. “The worst is over, if we continue to be smart going forward.”

 
 
 

Political leaders said a reopening of the economy may hinge on more widespread testing and cautioned that lifting of stay-at-home restrictions too early could reignite the outbreak.

The Trump administration has signaled May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from Covid-19 than any other country, with more than 23,000 deaths as of Monday morning, according to a Reuters tally. There were more than 575,000 known US infections. 

At least 1,500 new US fatalities were reported on Monday, far below last week’s running tally of roughly 2,000 deaths every 24 hours. 

Wyoming reported its first death from the coronavirus on Monday, the final US state to report a fatality.

Official statistics, which exclude deaths outside of hospitals, have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, health experts said.

More than 10,000 people have died in New York state, and the death rate was “basically flat at an horrific level of pain and sorrow,” Cuomo said, referring to a flattening of the curve as seen on a graph.

In New York City, three indicators have to show a sustained decline before the city could consider the outbreak to be in a less dangerous phase, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: the daily number of people admitted to hospitals, the number of people in intensive care units, and the percentage of positive tests for the virus.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot acknowledged a “tightening” of the supply chain for swabs needed in coronavirus testing, and said it was part of a “national and international challenge” to ramp up testing.

 
 
 

Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, said testing for the coronavirus had improved “but we don’t have enough. Nobody has enough.” “There’s just a limited supply for a massive amount of demand,” Sununu told CNN.

To ease the impact of the shutdown on the US economy, the two top Democrats in the US Congress urged Republicans on Monday to authorize more funding for national testing.

An effort to rush fresh assistance to US small businesses stalled in Congress as the health emergency failed to overcome partisan differences between Republicans and Democratss