States Seeing Mixed COVID Results as Economies Reopen Around the Country

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week opened the northern part of the state to retail businesses, bars and restaurants, effective Friday.

With many politicians, business people and residents tired of being cooped up in their homes under Whitmer’s stay-home orders clamoring for her to open even more of the state’s economy, an old adage comes to mind.

Be careful what you wish for.

By the weekend, all 50 states will have at least partially lifted coronavirus-inspired lockdown orders similar to Whitmer’s, to varying degrees of success when compared to their rates of COVID-19 cases. Connecticut was the latest, allowing retail stores and restaurants to reopen as of Wednesday.

Health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the federal Coronavirus Task Force, have warned that re-engaging the economy too quickly could cause a spurt in coronavirus cases, particularly in areas that don’t continue with the social distancing guidelines espoused by the Centers for Disease Control.

In a country where the total number of cases is well north of 1.5 million, and where the death toll is approaching 100,000, early statistics indicate they could be right.

According to a CNN analysis of data provided by Johns Hopkins University, at least 17 states had seen at least a 10% rise in average daily cases. That’s one more state than those experiencing a downward trend – 16 states’ average daily cases dropped more than 10%. According to the data, the rest of the states were level or near level.

The uptick in case numbers shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, according to Wayne County, Mich., Commissioner Terry Marecki. The lockdowns weren’t meant to totally contain the virus, she said, but were designed to ease the burden on health care facilities (a point Whitmer has made many times).

In New York, the Navy’s hospital ship Comfort treated fewer than 200 patients in the month it was docked there, and the hospital ship Mercy left Los Angeles after treating fewer than 100 patients.

In Michigan, Detroit’s TCF Center was repurposed by the Army Corps of Engineers to house 1,000 COVID-19 patients; it never did reach that number and has since been closed.

“Hospitals are not at capacity at all,” Marecki said. “Everyone has been locked down, so it would make sense that numbers would go up a bit when people are unlocked.

“I’m so concerned about the economic devastation,” she added. “Wayne County is seeing many people with mental health issues.”

The CDC’s guidelines on how to reopen the country, released Tuesday, include pathways for schools, restaurants, transportation and child care. The guidelines urge such reopening only after a state has seen a decline in cases for 14 days.

According to multiple published reports, few states have met that guideline before beginning to reopen.

For instance, Maryland reported it’s largest increase in positive cases yet – with 1,784 on Tuesday – just four days after Gov. Larry Hogan began reopening the state’s economy, according to an NPR report.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday lifted Ohio’s stay-at-home order, replacing it with an “urgent health advisory” including “strong recommendations” to prevent the spread of the disease.

“It’s time for our orders to reflect the reality of where we are today,” DeWine said Tuesday, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We have flattened the curve, and that has been great work by all of you.”

The new advisory recommends Ohioans:

  • Continue to limit mass gatherings to 10 people and require 6 feet of social distancing in public.
  • Advise hand washing and frequent cleaning.
  • Include safety requirements for businesses issued in recent weeks.
  • Lift travel restrictions and self-quarantining for 14 days upon return to Ohio.

DeWine is also urging high-risk people to stay at home when possible and wear a mask if they must leave their homes. Young and healthy Ohioans will be asked, not ordered, to stay at home whenever possible, he said.

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The new order came after Tuesday’s 498 newly reported cases fell below the 21-day average of 580 new cases, according to the Enquirer. The daily increases in deaths, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions were above the 21-day average. Tuesday marked the sixth day in a row the daily hospitalization number was below 1,000, the Enquirer said.

Ohio has seen 27,106 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,556 confirmed deaths.

In California, where unemployment is over 20% in some areas, counties are preparing to open their economies.

According to the LA Times, local officials are readying plans for reopening while including social distancing restrictions in their plans.

Rules now allow dining establishments and shopping malls to reopen where state criteria are met, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is saying other changes are coming, potentially including the opening of hair salons and sporting events, minus the fans. The changes could come as soon as early June, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 news continues to be mixed. On Tuesday, California had its single-highest death total – 132, eclipsing the previous high of 117 in late April — since the pandemic started. On the other hand, new cases declined from the previous week, and hospitalizations dropped by more than 15% from a peak six weeks earlier, according to the Times.

Newsom said Tuesday the state has “had stability now for many weeks,” leading him to take steps to reopen.

“We never saw the peak increase in total number of cases and deaths that many other parts of the country did,” Newsom said during a PBS interview. “We’ve seen a modest decline in hospitalizations, and a significant increase in our testing capacity … we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been.

“That’s why we’re moving into this new phase, but with our eyes wide open, driven by data, drivern by evidence not by ideology … so we can toggle back if conditions change,” he said.

Michigan’s reopening of retail outlets, bars and restaurants (at reduced seating) takes effect 12:01 a.m. Friday in the Upper Peninsula and the greater Traverse City areas. Whitmer has not announced any other reopening plans. She’d earlier reopened outdoor-related businesses such as landscaping companies and nurseries, real estate activity, construction and manufacturing.

“This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said. “It’s crucial that all businesses do everything in their power to protect their workers, customers, and their families. And as we approach Memorial Day weekend, I encourage everyone to be smart and be safe.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, pointed out that lowering COVID-19 trends are making the latest reopenings possible. Michigan had 51,915 cases and 4,915 deaths from COVID-19 as of Monday, and the 11 deaths reported Sunday were the lowest daily number recorded since the crisis began.