States consider reopening economies despite concerns

Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma have reopened select businesses within the past week

More than 2.8 million COVID-19 cases were confirmed worldwide, including 961,969 cases and 54,530 deaths in the United States as of April 26, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

After President Donald Trump released the three-phase federal guidelines to reopen the economy on April 16, governors have begun evaluating the possibility of easing state restrictions. During a press briefing on April 20, Vice President Mike Pence said he had spoken to governors and can confirm that all states have enough testing capacity to progress into the first reopening phase. 

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, reminded leaders during a media briefing on April 20 to be cautious about loosening restrictions as it may cause a spike in cases if reopening is rushed.

“We want to re-emphasize that easing restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Ending the epidemic will require a sustained effort on the part of individuals, communities and governments to continue suppressing and controlling this deadly virus.” 

Projection of earliest dates relaxing social distancing orders may be possible with considerations of confirmed cases and containment strategies in place, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. (Sarah Han | The Poly Post)

Amid the cautions, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma have reopened select businesses within the past week, raising concerns from health officials.

A projection model released by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) analyzes the current trends in cases and containment strategies in place to show an estimation of earliest dates states may relax social distancing orders. According to the projections, the earliest date for Tennessee to reopen should be on May 18. As of April 22, IHME also reported that Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma should not consider reopening until June 8 or later. 

Meanwhile on Friday, President Trump signed into law a $484 billion relief package passed by Congress to provide additional funding for small business loan programs, hospitals and testing. 

During a press briefing on April 22, the president also announced that he has signed an executive order limiting immigration to the U.S. for the next 60 days. 

“This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,” Trump said. “Crucially, we will also preserve our healthcare resources for American patients.”  

The order applies to those outside the country seeking green cards and will not affect Americans currently overseas who wish to return or workers entering the U.S. temporarily. Trump added that the executive order may be extended after the 60-day period if necessary. 

Nonessential travel restrictions to Mexico and Canada have also been extended for an additional 30 days, according to a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on April 20. 

“Border control, travel restrictions and other limitations remain critical to slowing the spread and allowing the phased opening of the country,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the DHS, said in the statement. 

State level

In California, there are 42,164 confirmed cases and 1,710 deaths as of April 26, according to the state Department of Public Health. 

A few counties in California, like San Luis Obispo, have begun requesting permission for relaxing the stay-at-home order to allow select businesses to reopen. Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, addressed the importance of ensuring safety statewide before making any modifications to the order. 

During a press briefing on April 20, the governor clarified that while the 58 counties in the state may be impacted differently, the “virus knows no jurisdiction, knows no boundaries” and can continue to spread or affect neighboring counties if social distancing orders are loosened too early. 

Testing and tracing hot spots are the key indicators to begin modifying the statewide stay-at-home order, Newsom reinforced during a media briefing on April 22. Along with 86 new testing sites, California is aiming to conduct 25,000 tests per day by the end of the month.  

Fortunately, the state is seeing progress, jumping from an average of 2,000 daily tests on March to a 16,000 average as of April 22. “Our goal is north of 60,000 tests a day, and that’s phase one goal — short-term goal,” Newsom said. 

State officials are also working on building “an army of tracers” to help track newly infected individuals. The 10,000 tracers that will work on this project will also keep a record of and observe those that have been in close contact with the infected individuals.

Newsom also announced that the state is ready to lift restrictions on scheduled surgeries. However, the order does not apply for cosmetic operations and will only be limited to “important medical procedures that if not attended to could become crises and ultimately burden the rest of the healthcare system.” 

To support virtual learning and help “close the digital divide” for Californian students, the governor announced a partnership with his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, in a $30 million effort to provide 70,000 students with resources, including laptops, Chromebooks and tablets. 

Later during the month, Sacramento will begin using school buses for mobile hotspots in an effort to extend internet access citywide. “If that proof of concept is successful, we’ll roll that out more broadly throughout the state of California,” the governor added. 

Local level

There are 19,528 confirmed cases and 913 deaths in Los Angeles as of April 25, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. 

In the annual State of the City address, Mayor Eric Garcetti explained that the economic blow from the COVID-19 pandemic will be worse than the 2008 recession. 

“I’ve never before hesitated to assure you that our city is strong, but I won’t say those words tonight,” Garcetti said. “Our city is under attack. Our daily life is unrecognizable. We are bowed and we are worn down. We are grieving our dead. But we are not broken, nor will we ever be.” 

To limit the spread of the virus, Garcetti announced during a press briefing that testing is now available for all essential workers with or without symptoms. Although the mayor hopes for asymptomatic tests to eventually be opened for the broad public, it is currently limited to high-risk groups. 

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