The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Friday as states and municipalities are increasingly starting to reopen their economies, many over the warnings of public health experts.
In Atlanta, protesters drove around the governor’s mansion honking their horns in protest of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to aggressively reopen the state’s economy. They waved signs that said, “Kemp kills,” “You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out!” and “Your life is what is essential!”
Kemp made the move over the objections of health experts, the White House, the NAACP and some of his state’s mayors.
Gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons and bowling alleys were allowed to reopen Friday. Restaurants and movie theaters will follow suit on Monday. More than 890 people in Georgia have died from COVID-19, according to the state’s Department of Health.
“For weeks now, my team has worked closely with the Trump Administration and our federal counterparts to mitigate the impact of #coronavirus in Georgia. Our decisions and direction are informed by data and public health recommendations,” Kemp tweeted on Thursday.
The White House’s phased approach calls for states not to start reopening their economies until, among other criteria, they see a decline in reported influenza-like illnesses and documented coronavirus cases for two weeks. Georgia does not meet this standard. President Donald Trump said Thursday that he “wasn’t at all happy” with Kemp’s decision, despite earlier pushing for reopenings, and that he thought the governor was moving too fast.
In a handful of Oklahoma cities, businesses such as barbershops and pet groomers were allowed to open Friday.
In Iowa, the day the state reported its highest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus infections, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that nonessential surgeries would be allowed starting Monday as would the opening of farmers markets. At least 107 people have died from COVID-19 in Iowa, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that churches across the state and restaurants and hair salons in some areas would be allowed to reopen with distancing and other precautions on May 4.
Elsewhere, protesters continued to challenge officials who were refusing to lift restrictions.
In Madison, one day after Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers extended his “safer-at-home” order to May 26, over 1,000 people gathered at the statehouse to protest the move, carrying signs that read “My body, my choice to work” and waving “Don’t tread on me” banners and American flags.
The gathering was among the largest of such protests that have taken place in recent weeks, though their views do not align with most Americans. A CBS poll released Thursday found that 70 percent of Americans believe the nation should prioritize slowing the spread of coronavirus, even if that results in short-term economic harm.
There were signs that the pandemic was waning elsewhere, notably in New York City, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus and was among the first places to enact large-scale restrictions to slow its spread. The number of people being admitted to hospitals, being treated in the intensive care unit and testing positive for the coronavirus has declined, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday morning.
The state of New York also reported declining hospitalization and mortality figures. More than 20,980 people have died of COVID-19 in the state.
“All evidence suggests we’re on the downside of the curve,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
However, he warned that the pandemic is creating an economic toll for state and local governments that could impact schools, police and health care. The pandemic has already created a $13.3 billion state budget shortfall, Cuomo said, adding that the figure is expected to grow to $61 billion through the 2024 fiscal year.
He blasted the federal government for bailing out airlines and other industries while failing to make state and local governments whole. He saved his greatest ire for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has referred to federal assistance to states struggling financially under the coronavirus as “blue state bailouts” and suggested they ought to declare bankruptcy.
States are not permitted by federal law to declare bankruptcy. Cuomo dared McConnell to pass legislation to change that.
“Sen. McConnell, pass the law, I dare you. And then go to the president and say ‘Sign this bill, allowing states to declare bankruptcy,’” Cuomo said. “You want to send a signal to the markets that this nation is in real trouble? You want to send an international message that the economy is in turmoil?
“Pass that bill, if you weren’t just playing politics,” he added. “We’ll see how long it takes him to do it.”