(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday applauded steps by a handful of Republican-led U.S. states to reopen their economies, but New York’s governor, wary of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, cautioned that it was “no time to act stupidly.”
About a half dozen U.S. states, mostly in the South, are loosening stay-at-home guidelines, allowing an array of non-essential businesses to reopen in the hope of reviving their devastated economies. Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, gave these states a show of support on Twitter.
“States are safely coming back. Our Country is starting to OPEN FOR BUSINESS again. Special care is, and always will be, given to our beloved seniors (except me!),” wrote Trump, who is 73.
States and local governments previously issued “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders affecting about 94% of Americans to try to limit the number of new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
The restrictions have battered the U.S. economy, with mandatory business closures leaving millions of Americans unemployed. Political leaders have engaged in an acrimonious debate over when and how to reopen the economy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who met with Trump on Tuesday, said his state was showing more signs the worst was over including a drop in hospitalizations. But he warned of a potential “second wave” if restrictions are relaxed irresponsibly.
“This is no time to act stupidly,” Cuomo added. “More people are going to die if we are not smart.”
Cuomo acknowledged that local officials feel political pressure to reopen businesses but warned against making decisions based on such factors.
“We make a bad move, it’s going to set us back,” he said.
Separately, Trump touted a planned reopening of U.S. national parks, although he offered no specifics and the National Park Service said in a statement it would provide details “in the coming days.”
Cuomo said there were 474 coronavirus-related deaths in his state in the last day, the lowest since April 1. But that pushed the overall death toll in New York, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, past 20,000.
U.S. coronavirus deaths have exceeded 46,000 as confirmed cases climbed to more than 815,000, according to a Reuters tally. At current rates, U.S. deaths could reach 50,000 later this week.
A University of Washington model, often cited by the White House, now projects nearly 66,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Aug. 4, an upward revision.
Cuomo said New York will work with neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey on a joint program to trace the contacts of infected people to prevent further spread.
Cuomo said former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will help develop the program. Bloomberg will contribute “upward of $10 million,” Cuomo’s aide Melissa DeRosa said.
The pandemic’s ongoing impact on businesses was illustrated by an announcement by Tyson Foods Inc that it will indefinitely suspend operations at its largest U.S. pork plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, to contain the pathogen’s spread. The move further tightens meat supplies after other major slaughterhouse shutdowns.
TEXAS GOVERNOR TO ACT
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas said on Wednesday he will announce a plan next week to broadly reopen the state’s economy during the first week of May.
“It’s going to be broad-based. We want to make sure we open as many businesses as possible,” Abbott told Fox Business Network. “However, we want to make sure we do it in a very safe way that does not stoke an expansion of the COVID-19.”
Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp is allowing gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo and massage parlors to reopen on Friday, followed by movie houses and restaurants next week.
Cherish Burnham, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mother from Roswell, Georgia, said she was stunned by Kemp’s decision, saying it could put more lives at risk.
“I saw his announcement flash on my phone and my jaw dropped,” Burnham said. “It’s careless and will be catastrophic to countless more lives in our state.”
Georgia still has an order in place for people to stay at home until April 30, yet the governor plans to reopen businesses before that. “Doesn’t make sense,” Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Van Johnson told MSNBC.
Rebecca Hardin, a 47-year-old hairdresser whose Atlanta salon was shuttered, expressed concern that Georgia risked a fresh surge of infections and loss of life by opening up too quickly.
“I want to get back to work, but I’m worried it’s too soon,” Hardin said. “Friday seems awfully early when we’re facing a deadly disease that has no cure or vaccine.”
Some Georgia restaurant owners said they will not reopen Monday even if it means losing money to competitors.
“I’m losing money every day and I’m worried about my staff, but it can’t be safe yet,” said Brian Maloof, whose family has owned Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta for more than 60 years. “I have 49 employees and I worry about each one of them, but I don’t want to put them or my customers at risk.”
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason in Washington, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Maria Caspani in New York, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller