May 4, 2020 / 2:27 PM / 23 days ago

U.S. states plow ahead with reopening; Trump warns death toll could hit 100,000

WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Ohio and other U.S. states on Monday planned to ease more restrictions on businesses even as President Donald Trump acknowledged that as many as 100,000 Americans could die in a pandemic that has also decimated the U.S. economy.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine was allowing construction and manufacturing to reopen on Monday, and letting office workers return. Retail shops and many consumer services were due to resume operations on May 12.

To reopen, businesses must meet state requirements that workers wear face coverings and stay at least six feet apart, and employers sanitize their workplaces. DeWine has urged as many workers as possible to work from home.

“It’s a delicate balance,” he told MSNBC on Monday.

About half of all U.S. states have lifted shutdowns, at least partially, as the number of new cases of the COVID-19 illness has begun to decline or level off in many places, though infections are still rising in others.

Health experts have warned of a possible resurgence of the virus if states rushed to restart their battered economies too early and without a widespread testing and tracing network in place.

COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has infected more than 1.1 million people in the United States and killed nearly 68,000.

Trump late on Sunday acknowledged the U.S. death toll from the disease would exceed previous projections cited by the White House.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing,” Trump said on Fox News on Sunday night. As recently as Friday the president said he hoped fewer than 100,000 Americans would die and earlier in the week had talked of 60,000 to 70,000 deaths.

‘MIXED BAG’

Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said on Sunday the country was seeing a “mixed bag” of results from coronavirus mitigation efforts.

He said about 20 states had experienced a rising number of new cases including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Virginia reported a record number of deaths on Sunday, up 44 for a total of 660.

“We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point. And we’re just not seeing that,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If we don’t snuff this out more and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”

But Democratic Governor Jared Polis of Colorado on Monday said that residents could not be kept at home indefinitely.

“Stay-at-home is so unsustainable,” Polis told FOX News’s “Fox and Friends” program, adding that he hoped his state’s partial reopening that began on April 27 could help ease the burden on state unemployment benefit filings.

“We have to start being able to do this in a way that’s psychologically sustainable, economically sustainable, but also works form a health perspective so we don’t overwhelm our hospital system.”

A weekend of warm weather in many parts of the country put enforcement of social-distancing rules to the test in densely populated metropolitan areas such as New York City and Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to view a U.S. Navy flyover to honor healthcare workers and others battling the pandemic.

In New York City, the warmest weather yet this spring caused picnickers and sunbathers to flock to green spaces in Manhattan. Photos on social media showed crowded conditions at the Christopher Street Pier in Greenwich Village and other open spaces.

Last week, California ordered beaches in Orange County to close, after crowds defied public health guidelines to throng the popular shoreline. Police in the county’s Huntington Beach said people were complying on Sunday.

In a break from tradition caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for the first time heard arguments in a case by teleconference - and even typically silent Justice Clarence Thomas asked questions.

Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Writing by Maria Caspani, Editing by Howard Goller

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