The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases topped 1 million on Tuesday – representing a third of the global total – even as some states eased restrictions in the face of an economy battered by the pandemic.
With President Donald Trump’s economic adviser forecasting an unemployment rate of more than 16% for April and many Americans chafing under stay-at-home orders, about a dozen states were moving to restart their economies despite a lack of large-scale virus testing.
Public health experts have warned that a premature rollback of social-distancing policies could cause a surge in new infections.
More than 56,500 Americans have died of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with an average of about 2,000 a day this month, according to a Reuters tally.
The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus infections passed 1 million and has doubled in 18 days. The actual number of U.S. infections is believed to be higher than the confirmed number of cases, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials have limited testing capacity, leaving many infections unrecorded.
About 30% of the American cases have occurred in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania. The virus was first reported late last year in China and has spread worldwide. The earliest-known U.S. deaths were in February.
Georgia, at the vanguard of states reopening businesses, on Monday permitted restaurant dining for the first time in a month. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Monday he would let the state’s stay-at-home order expire and begin reopening businesses including restaurants and retail shops in phases beginning on Friday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis met with Trump at the White House and said he would make an announcement on Wednesday about how to relax restrictions in his state. DeSantis said he would review his state’s task force report before making his announcement.
The governors of other states, including New York, have put off easing restrictions out of concern they might fuel a second wave of infections.
“Everyone is talking about reopening. I get it,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, adding any decision should not be made based on politics or emotions or in reaction to protests.
“We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people or overwhelming the hospital system,” Cuomo told his daily briefing, adding that his state’s death toll had grown by 335 in the last day.
Squadrons of U.S. Navy Blue Angels jets and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jets performed a joint flyover in the sky above New York City in a tribute to frontline responders and essential workers fighting the pandemic. The planes also were flying over New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top lobbying group for the country’s business sector, called for consistency across federal, state and local governments to reopen the economy but urged against any public health guidelines becoming regulations that could harm businesses as they seek to restart.
74,000 U.S. DEATHS FORECAST
The University of Washington’s model, often cited by White House officials and state public health authorities, upwardly revised its projected U.S. coronavirus death toll to more than 74,000 people by Aug. 4, compared with its previous forecast of 67,000.
The university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said late on Monday that the number of U.S. deaths caused by the virus was not abating as quickly as previously projected after hitting a daily peak on April 15 with about 2,700.
While most states seem to have passed their peaks in the pandemic, seven – Hawaii, Mississippi, Texas, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska and North Dakota – may be experiencing their peaks now or in the coming weeks, the model showed.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits over the past five weeks has soared to 26.5 million, underscoring the pandemic’s economic impact. Chuck Schumer, the top U.S. Senate Democrat, said on Tuesday that state and local governments will be forced to make “massive” layoffs if Congress fails to act soon to provide financial assistance to help them deal with the costs of addressing the pandemic.
In another sign of the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of the nation, the U.S. House of Representatives will not return to Washington next week as planned, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Tuesday. Hoyer said House leaders received a warning from the chamber’s physician that there is a health risk to lawmakers amid a still-rising number of infections in the U.S. capital.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker, Peter Szekely, Jessica Resnick-Ault, Rich McKay and Brendan O’Brien; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller)