U.S. governors mull May 1 reopening as data highlights pandemic's economic damage
By Doina Chiacu and Maria Caspani WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Governors of about 20 U.S. states spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may start reopening their economies by President Donald Trump's May 1 target date, a top U.S. health official said on Wednesday, as fresh data illustrated the economic and human toll brought by the crisis.
By Doina Chiacu and Maria Caspani
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Governors of about 20 U.S. states spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may start reopening their economies by President Donald Trump's May 1 target date, a top U.S. health official said on Wednesday, as fresh data illustrated the economic and human toll brought by the crisis.
Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency was prepared to assist those states in the process of lifting restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.
"There are a number of states - 19, 20 states - that really have had limited impact from it. So I think we will see some states that are - the governors feel that they're ready - we're poised to assist them with that reopening," Redfield said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."
States and local governments have issued "stay-at-home" or "shelter-in-place" orders affecting about 94% of Americans to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
The restrictions have battered with U.S. economy, with mandatory business closures aimed at curbing the pathogen's spread leaving millions of Americans unemployed. With evidence that the outbreak is slowing in hard-hit states like New York, political leaders have engaged in an acrimonious debate over when to try to reopen the economy without paving the way for a deadly second wave of infections.
Fresh government data released on Wednesday gave another glimpse at the economic damage. Retail sales dropped by 8.7% in March, the government reported, the biggest decline since tracking began in 1992.
The U.S. death toll - already the world's highest in the world - has surged relentlessly. The number of U.S. deaths stood at 28,500 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, the number of U.S. deaths rose to a single-day high.
New York, the most populous U.S. city, revised its official COVID-19 death toll sharply higher to more than 10,000 on Tuesday to include people presumed to have perished from the virus who were never tested.
On Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $170 million initiative to feed residents in need.
FAUCI URGES CAUTION
Health experts including Anthony Fauci, Trump's top infectious diseases adviser, have cautioned that hastily reopening the economy might backfire and have stressed the importance of rapid and widespread testing.
Fauci said the ability of states to reopen would largely depend on regional issues, including population density and other factors, and that states would at a minimum need to identify and isolate coronavirus patients and do extensive contact tracing or else risk a surge in cases.
"There is going to be a great deal of variability," Fauci told NBC's "Today" program in an interview aired on Wednesday. "It probably would be a rolling entry into it," with some states keeping shelter-at-home restrictions in place and others relaxing them.
Governors in the hardest-hit states like New York's Andrew Cuomo have resisted a declaration by Trump that he alone has the power to decide when to begin reopening the economy and allowing nonessential businesses to operate again.
Details of a federal plan for reopening the economy began emerging on Wednesday. The Washington Post reported that the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have put together a public health strategy to reopen parts of the country. Planned in three phases, the strategy includes a national communication campaign, a community readiness assessment and emergency funding for testing and protective equipment, the Post reported.
On Monday evening, Trump told reporters some 20 states were "in extremely good shape" and might be able to reopen "fairly quickly," as the president announced that he was close to completing a plan for ending America's coronavirus shutdown.
Trump said some parts of the country may see a gradual restart even before the target date of May 1.
(Reporting Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Maria Caspani, Lisa Shumaker and Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Will Dunham and Maria Caspani; Editing by Frank McGurty and Alistair Bell)
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