Relaxed restrictions across US will have a dire impact on coronavirus death toll, experts warn
By Christina Maxouris, CNN
Public spaces were filled with visitors over the weekend as some states began loosening lockdown measures and experts now warn the premature reopening could drive up the country’s coronavirus death toll — by nearly double, according to one prediction.
In the past two weeks, governors across the country introduced plans for phased reopenings amid mounting pressure from residents and businesses who are fearful of devastating economic impacts of lockdowns.
But the alternative could be worse.
“It’s the balance of something that’s a very difficult choice,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, told CNN Monday night. “How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality, sooner rather than later?”
At least 42 states will be partially reopened through May 10, including California — the first state to implement a sweeping stay-at-home order — where some stores will be allowed to reopen this week.
A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now predicting the US could see 134,475 deaths by early August — a massive spike since its previous prediction of 74,000 deaths just last week.
A separate model from the Trump administration is also projecting that cases and deaths will rise in the next weeks, with the death toll reaching 3,000 daily victims by June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times.
So far, the US has recorded more than 1,180,600 infections and at least 68,934 deaths. Over the weekend, parks in New York City and Atlanta drew crowds as residents began venturing out of their homes. In the city of Miami Beach, more than 7,300 warnings were issued to people who weren’t wearing face covers, while more than 470 warnings were given to those who failed to practice social distancing.
Forgetting about social distancing measures too quickly can result in a rebound, Fauci says. And that’s highly likely with a virus that he says can spread “like wildfire.”
“It has a phenomenal capability and efficiency in spreading from person to person,” Fauci said Monday. “This virus has enormous capabilities of spreading like wildfire. We know that.”
How governors are moving forward
California was one of the states where crowds gathered over the weekend — thousands of protesters descended on the state’s Capitol and an Orange County beach to protest social distancing orders from the governor.
On Monday, the governor announced retail shops in the state — including clothing stores, florists and book shops — can begin to reopen on Friday, after health officials said the state was meeting important metrics including sufficient test and tracing capacity.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he didn’t think his city would reopen this week, saying Monday that despite the governor’s announcement, different parts of the state may see different timelines for reopening.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the lockdown will continue “until at least May 15,” warning that reopening the state too soon could lead to a second shutdown.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who has laid out a phased reopening approach for the state, said Monday the numbers in Kentucky are “really steady” even with an increase in testing.
When he was asked why the state had forgone the recommended benchmark of seeing a 14-day decline in cases before beginning to reopen he said, “I will tell you, I never thought we’d be plateaued for three weeks, that’s a great thing with more testing.”
And in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves took a more aggressive approach, releasing new guidelines that go into effect this week.
Those include allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people.
Saying he knows the virus doesn’t do well in the sun or heat, he added, “to be outdoors is about the safest place you can be.”
The governor’s plan also allows dining service in restaurants — as long as the institutions follow guidelines provided by the state, including a mandatory deep cleaning.
“I don’t want to wait if there are steps that we believe we can safely take now to ease the burden on Mississippians fighting this virus,” he said.
Protests against masks
As health officials and businesses navigate safe re-openings, many communities — and the federal government — have urged Americans to wear face coverings when they’re in public and in parts of the US it’s now required.
But those guidelines have also seen push-back — most recently in Michigan’s Capitol building, where hundreds of protesters showed up — most of whom, were not covering their face.
On Friday, a security guard was shot in the head and killed after telling a customer at a Michigan Family Dollar store to wear a face mask. The governor required face masks in enclosed public spaces in late April. Three people have been charged.
In Stillwater, Oklahoma, an emergency proclamation issued to require face masks in stores and restaurants was amended a day later after store employees were “threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse,” Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement.
And in San Diego County, a supermarket customer wore a Ku Klux Klan-style hood to cover his face and only removed it at the cashier despite having been repeatedly asked to multiple times before, CNN affiliate KSWB reported.