An influential projection model shows most US states are still weeks away from being able to safely lift coronavirus restrictions – despite five states partially reopening amid the pandemic.
None of the states that have committed to partially reopening have met White House guidelines that urge for a two week steady decline in cases before restrictions are lifted.
The Republican governors of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have all set dates for lifting restrictions to kick start their economies again within two weeks.
Colorado’s Democratic governor became the latest to say some businesses will be allowed to reopen from April 27.
The loosening of economic restrictions in the middle of the still deadly pandemic is set to provide a live-fire test on whether parts of the US can start to reopen without triggering a surge in infections that may force them to close again.
Guidelines issued by the IHME at the University of Washington as of Monday recommended Georgia keep restrictions in place until June 15, South Carolina until June 1 and Tennessee and Colorado until May 25
None of the five US states that have committed to partially reopening have met White House guidelines that urge for a two week steady decline in cases before restrictions are lifted
None of those states have met basic White House guidelines unveiled by President Trump last week that call for 14 days of declining cases before a state should reopen.
‘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,’ Dr Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House taskforce, said this week.
‘But each of the governors can decide for themselves whether they’ve reached specific guidelines in specific areas.’
Most the states that have committed to reopening are still weeks away from the timing suggested in the latest modeling by the influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation based on the spread of the virus and social distancing.
Guidelines issued by the IHME at the University of Washington recommended Georgia keep restrictions in place until June 15, South Carolina until June 1 and Tennessee and Colorado until May 25.
Amid a national debate over how to fight the virus while mitigating the deep economic toll, these moves by the cluster of states are the first to test the borders of resuming ‘normal’ life.
Georgia has been hardest-hit of these states with 19,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.
The state’s timetable for reopening, which is one of the most aggressive in the US, allows gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday as long as owners follow strict social-distancing and hygiene requirements.
Elective medical procedures will also resume. By next Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets and restaurants limited to takeout orders could return to limited dine-in service.
Bars, music clubs and amusement parks will remain closed for now.
Gov. Brian Kemp said it was important to allow businesses that had been shut down a chance to get some revenue flowing but he emphasized businesses would still be operating under restrictions including monitoring employee health, enhancing sanitation and separating workers.
‘I think this is the right approach at the right time,’ Kemp said. ‘We’re not just throwing the keys back to these business owners. We’re talking about people (who had) the government shut down their business.’
Kemp’s order overrides any attempt to impose stricter local decisions, but some local officials including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the governor is moving too quickly.
‘It appears the governor’s order supersedes anything I can do as mayor, but I still have my voice and what I will continue to do is ask Atlantans to please stay at home,’ Bottoms told ABC News.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was also critical of Kemp, telling residents: ‘Don’t go out. People will not come here if they think our businesses are not safe’.
Johnson said people would be at close quarters in movie theaters and restaurants and ‘there’s no way that hair, nails, massages and tattoos can be done at a safe distance’.
Some health experts also questioned the wisdom of opening up service industries that operated with such high levels of human contact.
‘Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors – it feels like they collected, you know, a list of the businesses that were most risky and decided to open those first,’ Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNBC on Tuesday.
Leaders of the other states have offered similar rationales to Georgia, arguing that caseloads had eased, testing and monitoring had expanded, and hospital capacity was now adequate to take what Kemp called a ‘small step forward’ in resuming normal life.
In South Carolina, barricades came off public boat ramps Friday. Closed retailers, like department stores and specialty shops, were next, but only, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster insisted, if strict social distancing was followed. He let local governments decide whether to reopen beaches and most declined for now.
It is not yet clear if South Carolina’s cases have peaked yet since state health data shows the number of coronavirus tests have fallen.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has announced that most businesses will begin resuming operations as soon as next week.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he would announce a plan next week to broadly reopen the state’s economy during the first week of May. A partial reopening in the state began on April 20.
Such a swift reopening runs counter to the advice of many experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top authority on infectious diseases, who warned again on Monday that resuming business too soon risked a fresh spike in infections.