Some Georgia businesses prepare to reopen as U.S. coronavirus deaths likely to pass 50,000

Some businesses prepared to reopen in Georgia on Friday as the country was poised to reach another grim milestone in the spread of the pandemic.

The U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus is expected to reach 50,000 on Friday, having doubled in just 10 days to become the highest in the world, according to a Reuters tally. The country marked 1,000 deaths a month ago, on March 26.

About 875,000 Americans have contracted the highly contagious respiratory illness COVID-19, which is caused by the virus. On average, about 2,000 have died every day this month, according to a Reuters tally.

The true number of cases is thought to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials has limited testing capacity.

More than 49,300 have died of COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally, a figure in line with case tracking by Johns Hopkins University.

Home care nurse Flora Ajayi in the Queens borough of New York City dons personal protective equipment to protect herself and prevent cross-contamination while visiting a client during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The total would also exceed deaths from the seasonal flu in seven out of nine recent seasons, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu deaths range from a low of 12,000 in 2011-2012 to a high of 61,000 in the 2017-2018 season.

High per-capita death rate

Coronavirus deaths are also likely higher, as most states only count hospital and nursing home victims and not those who died at home. About 40 per cent of the deaths have happened in New York state, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak, followed by New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

Although the rate of hospitalizations and other indicators of the outbreak’s severity have begun to level off in recent days, California registered its highest single-day loss of life to date on Thursday, with 115 deaths reported over the previous 24 hours.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged state residents to follow stay-at-home orders despite weekend forecasts of warm, sunny weather that could tempt many to beaches that are officially still closed.

Of the top 20 most severely affected countries, the United States ranks ninth based on deaths per capita, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has 1.5 deaths per 10,000 people. Belgium ranks first, at more than five deaths per 10,000 people, followed by Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

Americans may not rush to businesses, polls suggest

From Tennessee to Texas to Ohio to Montana, a handful of governors around the country have announced plans to swiftly allow the reopening of some workplaces that had been ordered closed as a way of curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of those plans have drawn fire from public health experts and other governors who warn that a premature easing of stay-at-home orders and business closures imposed over the past five weeks could trigger a renewed surge in coronavirus cases.

It’s uncertain how much activity businesses will receive. A Reuters/Ipsos survey this month found that a bipartisan majority of Americans want to continue to shelter in place to protect themselves from the coronavirus, despite the impact on the economy.

Several opinion polls have shown a bipartisan majority of Americans want to remain at home to protect themselves from the coronavirus, despite the impact to the economy.

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Only 13 per cent of Americans polled in a CBS News survey released on Thursday said they would definitely return to public places over the next few weeks if restrictions were lifted now, no matter the status of the outbreak.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has cleared the way for gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo and massage parlours to resume business on Friday, followed by movie theatres and restaurants next week. South Carolina began to ease restrictions on Monday. Florida opened some of its beaches last Friday.

‘No way is it safe’

Some business owners, despite the financial blow of the forced closures, were less than enthusiastic about reopening just yet.

“No way is it safe,” said Michael Sponsel, 39, owner of the Freedom Barber shop in Atlanta, the capital and largest city of Georgia. “Not for my barbers, not for my customers. We looked at the numbers and they don’t look good.”

He told Reuters he planned to keep his doors closed.

Georgia has recorded nearly 850 deaths out of more than 21,000 cases, the 11th-highest fatality toll among the 50 U.S. states.

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Others were more sanguine. Angie Bullman said she would reopen her suburban Atlanta hair salon on Friday and was fully booked for the weekend.

“We got to get back to work,” Bullman said.

President Donald Trump at first seemed to urge Georgia on when their plans were announced, but by midweek he was saying in his daily news briefings at the White House that it was “too soon.”

He said Thursday he was “not happy” with Kemp, as the state does not meet the first phase of guidelines the administration encouraged states to follow in deciding how to bring economic life back closer to capacity.

Rather than permitting companies to reopen their doors to customers, some states, including Wisconsin and Illinois, were taking a more cautious approach by allowing merchants to conduct curb-side business, while requiring face-coverings in the workplace.

Body bags dropped at Trump’s hotel

Some states have encouraged physical distancing but stopped short of issuing stay-at-home orders, including Iowa and South Dakota — which have each seen outbreaks at key national meat-processing plants — as well as Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. 

State leaders in some of those states have cited low case numbers, though other jurisdictions have seen that infections can lurk undetected for several days.

Millions of Americans have felt the pain from the pandemic. U.S. Labor Department data released on Thursday showed 26.5 million Americans had sought jobless benefits over the last five weeks, effectively erasing all jobs gained during what had been the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

While some idled workers have welcomed moves to reopen the economy, others fearful of returning before it is safe to do so face a quandary – state unemployment laws generally bar them from collecting jobless benefits if they refuse work, said Thomas Smith, an associate professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

“You’re asking people to put their life on the line,” Smith said. “These people aren’t Army Rangers – those people signed up for combat. A barber did not.”

The economic pain has led to a smattering of protests across the nation by those who are eager to return to work or who accuse states of encroaching on their liberty. Another protest of that kind was scheduled for Wisconsin on Friday.

On Thursday, a protest from the other side of the political spectrum took place. The Center for Popular Democracy Action organized a demonstration in which mock body bags were placed on the sidewalk in front of the Trump International Hotel in D.C., accusing the president of dropping the ball on the pandemic response to deadly effect.



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