Jacksonville Beach Public Information Officer Tonya Tator told CNN on Saturday, “Everyone has done a great job at adhering to the social distancing and all other rules on Jacksonville Beach today.”
But some health experts and medical groups have warned the US is still behind in its testing capacity — a key factor in the country’s reopening process to help determine and track just how many people are infected.
In a three-part guideline released this week, the White House said states can enter the first phase toward reopening once they see a continued decrease over two weeks.
As of Saturday morning, there were more than 715,536 confirmed cases in the US and at least 37,625 people had died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
President Donald Trump, who has said governors will call the shots on when to reopen their state, said Thursday the states with the lowest number of cases could begin reopening “literally tomorrow.”
An influential model of the virus that’s often cited by the White House says some states with a low number of cases could begin lifting measures starting May 4. Those include Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, and Hawaii.
Others, including Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, may need to wait until late June or early July.
“Actual decisions by states to relax social distancing should be informed by meeting critical metrics closer to these dates, including a very low number of estimated infections in the community — less than one estimated infection per 1 million people,” the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME), where the model was created, said in a news release.
Montana, still recording one of the lowest numbers of cases in the country, says it’s not prepared to reopen.
“Even the gating criteria (of two straight weeks with new cases slowing down) that the president put out yesterday — we haven’t met those criteria,” Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday.
Meanwhile, governors of 30 states have ordered or recommended that pubic schools remain closed through the end of the school year, CNN reporting reveals.
Cuomo says New York numbers are dipping but still ‘overwhelming’
The state of New York is seeing hospitalization, ICU and intubation numbers down, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Saturday.
But that doesn’t mean the state is near reopening. New York is “barely” in a stable position, Cuomo said.
“If you look at the past three days you could argue that we are past the plateau and we’re starting to descend, which would be very good news,” Cuomo said. “We’re not at the plateau anymore but we’re still not in a good position.”
About 1,915 people were newly admitted to a hospital Friday with Covid-19, he said. At least 540 people died Friday, Cuomo said, calling that “overwhelming.”
Testing is the most important thing, Cuomo said, because it is “how you monitor the rate of infection,” and testing “informs the calibration.”
After a person is identified as being positive, trace detectives set out to find contacts. That “requires an army,” Cuomo said.
The state did 500,000 tests in a month, but that is “only a fraction of what you need,” Cuomo said. “The more you test the more information the more you can reopen society.”
“We need help on that supply chain, especially when it becomes international, and we need coordination and basic partnership,” Cuomo said of the federal government.
He called on the federal government to provide money to the state. That means money for small businesses and schools, he said.
“if you want us to reopen, we need funding,” he said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his state continues to aggressively ramp up testing capabilities.
“A strong testing regime in place is critical for us moving forward as we begin to plan at some point — whenever that is — to reopen our state,” Murphy said. “Rapid, scaled testing, contact tracing, means to quarantine and isolate — those elements must be in place.”
Murphy went on to say prematurely opening a state could be dangerous.
“Anybody out there who thinks that let’s just open the place up will lead to lower infections, lower hospitalizations and lower fatalities is being completely and utterly irresponsible,” he said.
In Colorado on Saturday, Gov. Jared Polis wore a mask as he greeted Vice President Mike Pence, who arrived to give the commencement address at the Air Force Academy. Pence told the graduates the American people have met the challenge of the coronavirus” with courage, resilience and strength.”
On April 3, the White House announced CDC guidance that Americans wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings. Pence did not wear a mask upon arrival in Colorado. Trump has said he won’t wear a mask, either.
Canada border will stay closed, Trudeau says
Also Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the border to the US will remain closed until at least May 19, except for essential traffic.
“Canada and the United States have agreed to extend, by another 30 days, the border measures that are currently in place. This is an important decision and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa.
Trudeau said essential goods and services will continue to across the border, including medical workers and supplies.
On Wednesday, Trump had said this “will be one of the early borders to be released.”
Where measures are being lifted
In Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry said people on newly opened beaches are taking social distancing seriously and their actions are helping flatten the curve of coronavirus cases.
“This is not a return to normal life yet, but a way to responsibly include limited outdoor exercise,” Curry said.
Texas has more than 18,000 reported infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, making it one of the states with the most cases.
The governor also directed retail stores to begin reopening April 24 and instead deliver products to customers’ cars and homes. He said the process of reopening the state will happen gradually and will be guided by medical experts.
US Rep. Lloyd Doggett, criticizing the governor’s decision, said there will be a “cost in lives of doing it prematurely when there’s so many questions about the accuracy of testing, of so many dangers from ignoring social distancing. I find his orders troubling.”
“The only way this is going to work even with something like golf or shooting ranges or trails, is if we follow those, washing our hands, stay home (guidelines). If you’re sick, cough into your sleeve, wear a mask.” Walz said in a news conference Friday.
US still behind on testing, expert says
Experts have for long said one of the major determining factors behind governors’ decisions to reopen their economies should be testing, and medical experts continue to insist the country is behind.
Pence said Friday the White House coronavirus task force believes the US has the testing capacity for states to begin easing their measures — the first of three phases in the federal guide of reopening the country.
Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, says the country’s current number of conducted tests — less than 150,000 a day — are not nearly enough.
“If we were just testing the highest priority people and nobody else, we’d need about three times as many tests,” Frieden told CNN. But as the US is testing lower priority people as well, the country would need 10 to 20 times more tests than that, Frieden said.
And earlier this week, the Association of American Medical Colleges sent a letter to the government’s task force saying labs are facing critical shortages.
“Laboratories across the country are working day and night to expand testing capacity but are severely hampered by shortages of needed reagents, swabs for testing, PPE, and specialized equipment designed by companies to be used with their own machines,” it said.
More protests planned over stay-at-home orders
Protesters have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah and California to voice their opposition to the measures.
“A small segment of the state is protesting and that’s their right,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN. “The sad part is, though, that the more they’re out and about, the more likely they are to spread Covid-19,” Whitmer said, “and the more likely we’re going to have to take this posture for a longer period of time.”
More are planned for the coming days, including in Wisconsin, Kansas and Missouri.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers are out of work. Hundreds and thousands of small family businesses are being destroyed right now under this quarantine, under this lockdown,” Dorr told the news station.
“Many small businesses couldn’t afford to keep their doors closed for a week or two, now we’re talking another month. Thousands of small businesses will shut their doors forever,” he added.
CNN’s Paula Newton, Randi Kaye, Carma Hassan, Ben Tinker, Janine Mack, Betsy Klein, Andy Rose, Arman Azad and Curt Devine contributed to this report.