U.S. confronts dilemma of reopening economy amid rising COVID-19 caseload

2020-04-16 13:51

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WASHINGTON, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States have soared to more than 638,000 with over 30,000 fatalities as of Wednesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University tally, as debates to reopen the country's economy are getting intense.

As one of the country's COVID-19 hot spots, New York City alone reported 214,698 cases and 14,064 deaths, followed by New Jersey with 71,030 cases and 3,156 deaths. Other states with more than 20,000 cases included Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Florida and Louisiana, according to the tally updated at 23:10 p.m. on Wednesday.


Experts have listed three reasons why the United States has the most COVID-19 infections worldwide.

First is the great amount of testing nationwide. More than 3 million tests have been completed in three weeks in the United States, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House COVID-19 task force director, told a daily press briefing earlier this week.

Robert Schooley, a professor of medicine with the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, told Xinhua that the number of cases reported are heavily influenced by how much testing is done in a given location.

The staggering infection number in the United States is related to the sensitivity of its advanced testing methods, and the diagnostic criteria for COVID-19 patients, according to Zhang Zuofeng, a professor of epidemiology and associate dean for research with the School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Insufficient sheltering in place and starting it too late also resulted in the high infection and death number in the country, Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, told Xinhua.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced late March that the national social distancing guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 will be extended to April 30. He had originally planned to reopen the country for business by Easter which fell on April 12.


Though the infections continue to rise, new case numbers have recently been growing "steadily, rather than exponentially" especially in the hot spots like New York, because of the actions taken by federal and state governments including businesses lockdowns and social distancing, experts have said.

Americans staying home have slowed the spread of the coronavirus in the past week, especially in certain states, Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told a briefing Wednesday.

Birx said the number of new cases have declined over the past five to six days. In nine states, there have been fewer than 1,000 cases and less than 30 new cases a day in each state, she said.

The states of California, Oregon and Washington "never really had a peak because of the (social distancing) their populations did," she said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state is "flattening the curve" last Wednesday, pointing out that new hospitalizations are at "the lowest number we've had since this nightmare started."

Imposing a stricter measure to control the virus spread, Cuomo said Wednesday that all New Yorkers must wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible, including on public transport, in stores and on crowded sidewalks. The order will take effect on Friday.

Also on Wednesday, the state of Maryland announced that it would require people to wear masks in public.

"The wearing of masks is something we may have to become more accustomed to in order to safely reopen our state," said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan when announcing the order.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that large gatherings like sporting events and concerts are unlikely to occur until 2021 due to the pandemic, which has dealt a major blow to one of the world's major sports and entertainment capitals.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the chances of social gatherings occurring in the near future are "negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and get to a vaccine."


Given that over 90 percent of the U.S. population is currently under a stay-at-home order, worries about the economy are compelling the country to put Americans' life back to normal at an appropriate pace and scale.

Economic activity "contracted sharply and abruptly" across all regions in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

All districts reported "highly uncertain outlooks" among business contacts, with most expecting conditions to "worsen in the next several months," the Fed said in its latest survey on economic conditions, known as the Beige Book, based on information collected from its 12 regional reserve banks before April 6.

The survey came after the Commerce Department reported Wednesday that U.S. retail sales plunged in March by the most on record as the pandemic is starting to take a big toll on the U.S. economy.

The U.S. economy is expected to contract by 5.9 percent this year, according to the World Economic Outlook (WEO) report released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday.

Trump has leaned into his desire to reopen the nation's economy by May 1, many of the governors and mayors who hold the power to enforce closures seem to disagree.

Citing promising developments in the battle against coronavirus, Trump said at Wednesday's briefing at the White House that new federal guidelines meant to begin the process of reopening the country will be unveiled on Thursday.

Yet, final decisions on how and when to reopen parts of the economy will fall to individual governors, Trump said. Earlier, the president said he held "absolute authority" to reopen the economy.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have announced a consortium on easing restrictions, and a similar effort has been undertaken by West Coast governors.

Some states have already extended their own social distancing guidelines past May 1.

Cuomo said Wednesday that the state's economy will eventually reopen in phases, based on need and public health concerns.

In another contrasting development, thousands of demonstrators, who remained mostly in vehicles, on Wednesday surrounded the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, accusing Governor Gretchen Whitmer of going too far with stay-at-home orders.

The orders by Whitmer are among the strictest in the nation, barring residents from crossing the street to visit neighbors or driving to see friends.

A demonstration on Tuesday in Raleigh, North Carolina (N.C)., resulted in arrests of protesters, some of whom were standing close to one another and carrying signs that said "Reopen N.C."

The Pennsylvania state senate on Wednesday sent a bill that would partially lift the lockdown on most of the state's businesses to Governor Tom Wolf's desk.
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