HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 42,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, as more protesters gathered in state capitals to demand an early end to the lockdowns, while officials pleaded for patience until more testing becomes available.
Stay-at-home measures, which experts say are essential to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, have ground the economy to a standstill and forced more than 22 million people to apply for unemployment benefits in the last month.
The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 774,000 infections, up 20,000 on Monday, with several states yet to report. New reported U.S. cases appear to be slowing from about 30,000 a day last week.
Montana for the first time reported no new cases on Monday after processing 153 tests in the past 24 hours, according to the state’s website.
Deaths also have slowed in recent days, rising by about 1,500 so far on Monday compared with over 2,000 a day for most of last week. The United States had a record 2,806 deaths in a single day on Wednesday.
Hot spots are emerging, however, in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. Connecticut posted a record increase in cases and deaths as it revised its count due to new classifications from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has advised states to count probable, but untested, cases and deaths.
Many of the protesters demanding an end to mandatory lockdowns expressed cynicism toward health experts and skepticism about the actual scale of the pandemic, accusing officials of overreaching and taking actions that had caused more harm than the virus itself.
Health experts and lawmakers on the front lines of the battle to curb the pandemic have warned that the country could face a second and even deadlier wave of infections if the lockdowns end prematurely.
The debate over restrictions for fighting the coronavirus intensified on Monday, as protesters labeled mandatory lockdowns as “tyranny,” while medical workers and health experts warned that lifting them too soon risked unleashing a greater disaster.
Stay-at-home orders and widespread business closures, while cited by public health authorities as vital to slowing the spread of the virus, have stifled the U.S. economy and thrown at least 22 million people out of work, a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The economic damage has led to increasing agitation for relaxing social-distancing restrictions, especially as the rate of coronavirus hospitalizations and other indicators of the outbreak’s severity have begun to level off in recent days.
In Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has pledged to veto a bill in the Republican-led General Assembly that would force him to reopen some businesses, a few hundred demonstrators, some in cars with horns blaring, rallied in the state capital, Harrisburg.
Many of the protesters expressed cynicism toward health experts and skepticism about the actual scale of the pandemic in the country, accusing political leaders of overreaching and taking actions that had caused more harm than the virus itself.
“All the projections were wrong, but we are still telling people to stay home and businesses to close. This is not quarantine, this is tyranny,” said Mark Cooper, a 61-year-old retired truck driver.
Others portrayed the stay-at-home measures in an altogether different light. Yetta Timothy, who was part of a counter-protest in Harrisburg, said the nursing home where she worked had lost an untold number of patients.
“They are dying everyday,” said the 43-year-old nurse, crying and holding a sign that read: “My life is on the line.”
“I just can’t believe all of this is happening, that they want to go back to work.”
President Donald Trump, a Republican whose re-election bid has been overshadowed by the pandemic, has criticized Democratic governors in several electoral swing states as going too far with their stay-at-home orders, amplifying a message touted by his political supporters in a series of street protests across the country.
One governor Trump has targeted, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, said she appealed to Vice President Mike Pence during a gubernatorial conference call on Monday for federal officials to speak out in support of social-distancing restrictions imposed by state leaders.
Whitmer, widely considered a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, told reporters after the call that Pence, who is leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response, vowed on the call to do as she requested.
In Washington, lawmakers were squabbling over a possible $450 billion-plus deal to provide more aid to small businesses and hospitals hurt by the crisis. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a vote could take place on Tuesday.]
Congress last month passed a $2.3 trillion aid package that included a small-business loan program. The Trump administration wants to add $250 billion to that now-depleted program, while Democrats have pushed for including funding for state and municipal governments and food aid for the poor.
Health experts and lawmakers on the front lines of the battle to curb the pandemic, which erupted in China late last year, have said the United States could face a second and even deadlier wave of infections if the lockdowns end prematurely.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News there would be no real economic recovery until authorities got the virus under control and that jumping the gun could lead to a big spike in cases.
“It’s going to backfire, that’s the problem,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said reopening the economy must be calibrated carefully to prevent another surge in cases.
“We need to get testing up to scale,” Cuomo said, adding that he was aware that some people were unhappy that they had to wear masks or engage in social distancing. “It’s not a question of happy — it’s a question of life and death.”
Earlier, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it could take weeks if not months before the country’s most populous city reopens, because of a lack of widespread testing to determine the full scope of the outbreak and how many people may have developed immunity to the virus.
Trump has insisted the country has sufficient COVID-19 testing capacity.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Trump said governors had shifted from sounding the alarm about a scarcity of ventilators to dire warnings about lacking what they needed to ramp up testing, accusing them of “playing a very dangerous political game.”
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said ramping up testing was the top priority on the administration’s agenda.
Federal guidelines issued by Trump last week for reopening the economy calls for a state to record 14 days of declining case numbers before moving ahead with a phased-in relaxation of restrictions. States must also first implement a rigorous program of testing and contract tracing for infectious individuals.
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