Florida reports record increase in COVID-19 deaths for second day in a row

(Reuters) – Florida reported a record increase in new COVID-19 deaths for a second day in a row on Wednesday, with 217 fatalities in the last 24 hours, according to the state health department.

Florida also reported 9,446 new cases, bringing its total infections to over 451,000, the second highest in the country behind California. Florida’s total death toll rose to 6,457, the eighth highest in the nation, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Chris Reese)

Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit as COVID-19 kills ‘a Brazilian per minute’

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region.

A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the county’s death toll past that of Italy late on Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to argue for quickly lifting state isolation orders, arguing that the economic costs outweigh public health risks.

Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, are seeing the highest rates of new infections, though the pandemic is also gathering pace in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.

Overall, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans have been infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians that backed strict lockdowns in March and April are pushing to open economies back up as hunger and poverty grow.

In an editorial running the length of newspaper Folha de S.Paulo’s front page, the Brazilian daily highlighted that just 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”

“While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported late on Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had climbed past 600,000 and 1,437 deaths had been registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.

Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths Friday night, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.

With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic has killed more people in Brazil than anywhere outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she told a news conference in Geneva. Among six key criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

In comments to journalists later Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organization.”

President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO, accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.

But many of those critics are divided about the safety and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after one small protest was met with an overwhelming show of police force last weekend.

Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said infections are high in Latin America as the virus was slow to gain a foothold in the region.

“It is hard to estimate when the pace of infection will come down,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo, Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

Lockdowns may have averted 3 million deaths in Europe by curbing COVID-19: study

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Wide-scale lockdowns including shop and school closures have reduced COVID-19 transmission rates in Europe enough to control its spread and may have averted more than three million deaths, researchers said on Monday.

In a modeling study of lockdown impact in 11 nations, Imperial College London scientists said the draconian steps, imposed mostly in March, had “a substantial effect” and helped bring the infection’s reproductive rate below one by early May.

The reproduction rate, or R value, measures the average number of people that one infected person will pass the disease on to. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.

The Imperial team estimated that by early May, between 12 and 15 million people in the 11 countries – Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland – had been infected with COVID-19.

By comparing the number of deaths counted with deaths predicted by their model if no lockdown measures had been introduced, they found some 3.1 million deaths were averted.

“Measuring the effectiveness of these interventions is important, given their economic and social impacts, and may indicate which course of action is needed to maintain control,” the researchers said in a summary of their findings.

A second study by scientists in the United States, published alongside the Imperial-led one in the journal Nature, estimated that anti-contagion lockdown policies implemented in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France and the United States prevented or delayed around 530 million COVID-19 cases.

Focusing their analysis on these six countries, the U.S. research team compared infection growth rates before and after the implementation of more than 1,700 local, regional and national policies designed to slow or halt the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

They found that without anti-contagion policies in place, early infection rates of SARS-CoV-2 grew by 68% a day in Iran and an average of 38% a day across the other five countries.

Using econometric modeling normally used in assessing economic policies, they found lockdowns had slowed the infection rate with “measurable beneficial health outcomes in most cases”.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones)

Mexico overtakes U.S. coronavirus daily deaths, sets records

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico overtook the United States in daily reported deaths from the novel coronavirus for the first time on Wednesday, with the health ministry registering a record 1,092 fatalities it attributed to improved documenting of the pandemic.

Latin American has emerged in recent weeks as a major center for coronavirus. Brazil, where the virus has hit hardest in the region, also reported a record number of deaths on Wednesday.

The Mexican government had previously predicted the pandemic would peak in early May and under U.S. pressure has begun reopening its vast auto industry, which underpins billions of dollars of business through cross-border supply chains.

However, plans to further relax social distancing measures this week were put on hold in recognition of the fact that infections had not yet begun coming down.

Wednesday saw a record 3,912 new infections, with the number of daily deaths more than twice the previous record of 501.

The total number of known cases in Latin America’s second-largest economy is now 101,238 and its tally of deaths is 11,729, making it the seventh country with most deaths from the virus, according to the John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell attributed the sharp jump in numbers to a new mortality committee established by the Mexico City government to better identify which deaths in the capital were caused by the virus.

“Over the past 20 or 25 days, we have had various cases that were slowly passed on to the registry, for various reasons,” he said. “A technical committee has specifically been carrying out complementary methods.”

The committee was established after growing criticism that Mexico’s very limited testing rate meant most cases and deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, were not being registered. A Reuters investigation concluded that fatalities could be 2.5 times higher than reported.

Mexico’s government has previously admitted the real number of fatalities was higher than the official count.

It was not clear if the inclusion of more deaths registered by the Mexico City committee would push daily numbers higher in future.

Mexico, with just over a third of the population of the United States, is at an earlier stage of the pandemic curve than its neighbor and the government has acknowledged that deaths could eventually surpass 30,000.

U.S. daily reported deaths were 1,045 on Wednesday, government data showed.

(Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney)

Factbox: Where states stand as U.S. reaches 100,000 coronavirus deaths

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Less than four months after a 57-year-old California woman died and was later found to be the country’s first COVID-19 fatality, the coronavirus U.S. death toll topped 100,000 people on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally.

The grim milestone is by far the largest of any country, although by population, several Western European countries, led by Belgium, have much higher death rates.

The outbreak set off a patchwork of responses by the 50 states and the District of Columbia, some of which were hammered by the global pandemic while others were barely touched.

Initial actions ranged from sweeping business shutdowns and orders to shelter in place to less drastic guidance and regional closings. All states have loosened at least some restrictions in recent weeks, but still require or recommend precautions, such as social distancing or masks. Almost all states have ended in-class instruction at public schools for the academic year.

Below are summaries of how the states and the District of Columbia are coming back from the economic slowdown they orchestrated to combat the pandemic, based on Reuters reporting, a Reuters tally of infections and deaths as of Wednesday, and data compiled by the National Governors Association:

ALABAMA: 12 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 581. Total cases: 15,775. After its stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, the state moved to a “Safer at Home” order that urged residents to minimize travel and banned public gatherings unless social distancing can be maintained. The order was amended to continue until July 3. The state has allowed retail stores to operate at 50% of capacity, while restaurants, bars, gyms and some personal care services were allowed to reopen with restrictions. State beaches also were reopened.

ALASKA: 1 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 10. Total cases: 411. On May 8, the state entered the second phase of a five-step reopening process that allows offices, restaurants, swimming pools, personal care and other retail businesses to operate at 50% of capacity, and bars, gyms and theaters to operate at 25% of capacity. Social and religious gatherings are limited to 50 people with social distancing.

ARIZONA: 11 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 831. Total cases: 17,262. After the state’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15, bars, pools, gyms and ballparks without fans were allowed to reopen, though social distancing policies remain in place. Non-essential retailers, including barbershops, reopened on May 8 and dine-in service at restaurants reopened on May 11.

ARKANSAS: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 119. Total cases: 6,180. The state responded to the outbreak in March with piecemeal measures, not a sweeping shutdown, and is now relaxing them. Restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in service at 33% capacity on May 11, personal service businesses, such as barbershops, were allowed to reopen on May 6, gyms were allowed to reopen on May 4. Large venues, such as movie theaters and sports arenas, were allowed to reopen on May 18, and restaurant bars could reopen on May 19, all with capacity limits. Since May 14, travelers from any international location, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey or New Orleans have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

CALIFORNIA: 10 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 3,824. Total cases: 99,769. The most populous U.S. state is in the second step of a four-stage reopening process after leading the country to close businesses and lockdown residents in March. The reopening is being phased in by county and business sector. Some statewide commerce is allowed, including curb-side retail sales and limited in-store shopping, manufacturing and office work. Some counties were permitted to open limited dine-in restaurant service, barbershops and hair salons. State beaches, bars, gyms and large venues, such as theaters, remain closed. On May 18, Governor Gavin Newsom said professional sports could return by early June under strict guidelines that include no fans.

COLORADO: 23 deaths per 100,000: Total deaths: 1,352. Total cases: 24,565. After a month-long “stay-at-home” order, the state moved to a looser “safer-at-home” order on April 27 that phases in activities, while still barring gatherings of 10 or more and requiring residents to stay within 10 miles (16 km) of home. On May 1, personal services, such as hair salons, and in-person shopping at non-critical stores resumed with restrictions. On May 4, commercial employers could have up to 50% of their employees on-site but were encouraged to have them work from home. Bars remain closed, but on Wednesday restaurants were allowed to resume seating customers, either outdoors or inside at 50% of capacity.

CONNECTICUT: 106 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 3,769. Total cases: 41,303. Two months after issuing a stay-home order, the state, among the country’s hardest hit, began loosening commercial restrictions on May 20. With restrictions, the new order allows offices to reopen, stores to allow onsite shopping and restaurants to offer outdoor table service. Unlike some neighboring states, Connecticut never closed manufacturing, construction or curbside retail service. Bars, gyms and personal service businesses remain closed. DELAWARE: 34 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 344. Total cases: 9,096. The state is gradually reopening the activities and businesses it shuttered on March 23 when residents were told to shelter in place, an order that has been extended to May 31. On May 8, most non-essential retailers were allowed to do curbside pickup sales, while several others, including hair care shops, were allowed to open for business with restrictions. Wider limited reopenings, including beaches, malls and restaurants and bars at 30% of capacity are set for June 1, although meeting facilities, sports venues and nail salons will remain closed.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: 62 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 445 Total cases: 8,406. Unlike most states that have moved to expand economic activity, the U.S. capital extended its stay-at-home order to June 8 because its efforts to curb the spread of the disease, had not met federal reopening guidelines. All but essential businesses, including grocery stores and restaurant take-out sales, remain closed. The district, among the country’s hardest-hit areas, was considering reopening parks.

FLORIDA: 11 deaths per 100,000: Total deaths: 2,319. Total cases: 52,634. The expiration of the state’s stay-at-home order on May 4 enabled most counties to reopen businesses, including retailers, dine-in restaurants, personal care services and gyms. Three heavily populated South Florida counties were slower to accept the reopenings, with Palm Beach, the home of U.S. President Donald Trump’s resort, joining a week later and Miami-Dade and Broward announcing some incremental reopenings afterward. The city of Miami Beach, which was hit hard by the virus, set its reopening of restaurant dining for May 25.

GEORGIA: 18 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,907. Total cases: 44,421. Georgia was the first state to emerge from lockdown as Governor Brian Kemp relaxed restrictions on April 24 over the objections of some local officials. The move allowed retail stores, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care businesses to open their doors, along with places of worship.

HAWAII: 1 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 17. Total cases: 643. The state, which relies heavily on tourism, requires all visitors arriving on the islands through June 30 to self-quarantine for 14 days. While the reopening of some businesses began on May 7, a stay-at-home order remains in effect through May 31. Retailers have been allowed to operate, except in Honolulu and Maui, and outdoor recreational facilities, including beaches, are open. More reopenings are expected on June 1.

IDAHO: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 79. Total cases: 2,699. The state began its incremental reopening on May 1, the day after its stay-at-home order expired, by allowing places of worship to operate. Dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care service businesses were allowed to open on May 16. More openings are expected on May 30.

ILLINOIS: 39 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 4,923. Total cases: 113,195. Illinois has taken only tentative steps away from the stay-at-home order Governor J.B. Pritzker issued in March. Since April, retail curbside sales and some manufacturing have been permitted, and state parks were opened. The stay-at-home order in place through May 29 bars non-essential travel, encourages work-from-home and restricts religious activities to gatherings of up to 10 people or drive-in services.

INDIANA: 30 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,030. Total cases: 32,437. Since May 4, the state has been phasing in the reopening of its economy in most regions, following the expiration of its March 23 stay-at-home order. The steps toward relaxation have allowed retailers and personal care services to do business, while restaurants and bars that serve food to could reopen their dining areas. Manufacturers, offices and places of worship also were free to operate.

IOWA: 15 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 490. Total cases: 18,360. One of a handful of states that did not issue a shutdown order, Iowa has been gradually unwinding the piecemeal restrictions it implemented in March but is keeping social distancing requirements. By May 15, all dine-in restaurants, gyms, hair salons and other personal service businesses were allowed to reopen. Large venue businesses, including theaters and zoos, were allowed to open on May 20, and bars were set to resume business on May 28. Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned through May 27.

KANSAS: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 205. Total cases: 9,337. The state has been in a phased reopening since May 4 when Governor Laura Kelly’s earlier stay-at-home order expired. Under the May order, retailers, offices, hair salons, gyms and restaurant dining areas were permitted to reopen, while bars and theaters remained closed. Further reopening steps are expected.

KENTUCKY: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 394. Total cases: 8,951. The state is in the process of a phased-in reopening following a March 22 shutdown order. On May 11, manufacturing, construction and office workers were allowed to go back to their workplaces with restrictions. The reopenings also extended to horse racing tracks, including the state’s internationally known Churchill Downs, but without spectators. Limited reopenings at 33% of capacity were applied to retailers on May 20 and restaurants on May 22. Other targeted reopenings include personal care services on May 25 and gyms and movie theaters on June 1. Bars remain closed.

LOUISIANA: 58 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,722. Total cases: 38,497. With New Orleans among the areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Governor John Bel Edwards issued a stay-at-home order on March 22, but began a gradual unwinding of it on May 15. The new order permits several businesses, including restaurant dining areas, shopping malls, salons and barber shops, places of worship, casinos, racetrack, gyms and most other businesses to operate at 25% of their customer capacity. Parks are also open.

MAINE: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 81. Total cases: 2,137. Maine, which has had a stay-at-home order in effect since April 2, began a regionally phased-in reopening approach on May 1. Car washes and auto dealerships were allowed to operate statewide, but the reopening of other retailers and restaurant dining areas was limited to some rural counties. On May 19, Governor Janet Mills delayed the reopening of salons and gyms, but opened the state’s campgrounds in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

MARYLAND: 39 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,392. Total cases: 48,423. After shutting down the state on March 30 with a stay-at-home order that also banned gatherings of more than 10 people, Governor Larry Hogan began reopening commerce on May 15. The new order allowed a broad range of retail stores, drive-in movie theaters, personal care services, manufacturers and places of worship to reopen in much of the state. The initial reopening phase also covered beaches and campgrounds, but not dine-in restaurants and gyms. Some localities chose to remain closed.

MASSACHUSETTS: 94 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 6,473. Total cases: 93,693. Massachusetts, among the states hardest hit by pandemic, began to emerge from a March 23 stay-at-home order with a phased-in reopening on May 18. The new order by Governor Charlie Baker, the first in a series, allowed the resumption of manufacturing, construction and worship services. It also sets May 25 for the reopening of curbside retail sales, office buildings, salons, car washes and drive-in movie theaters. Bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

MICHIGAN: 53 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 5,334. Total cases: 55,608. Michigan, scene of protests by groups of armed demonstrators calling for a resumption of commerce, has been one of the most locked-down states since March 24. It began relaxing restrictions by region on May 11 by allowing some retailers to do curbside sales. Another order allowed retailers and car dealerships to do business by appointment starting May 22. Some manufacturing, construction and restaurants also were allowed to resume operation in certain areas. The current stay-at-home order is set to expire after Thursday.

MINNESOTA: 16 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 942 Total cases: 22,464. The state has loosened its March shutdown order over the past few weeks, allowing manufacturing and office employees back to work, but requiring that workers who can work from home do so. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, although drive-in gatherings are permitted. On May 17, Governor Tim Walz reopened parks and many recreation areas and allowed retailers and malls to open their doors while limiting customers to 50% of capacity. A planned reopening of bars and dine-in restaurants is set for June 1. Gyms and personal care services remain closed.

MISSISSIPPI: 22 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 670. Total cases: 14,044. A shelter-in-place order issued on April 3 lasted only a matter of weeks, before being loosened for a phased-in resumption of commerce, starting with retailers operating their stores at 50% of capacity. Since then, the reopening has extended to dine-in restaurants and bars, gyms, casinos, salons, barbershops and state parks.

MISSOURI: 11 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 696. Total cases: 12,492. After the expiration of a shelter-at-home order, restaurants were allowed to seat customers in their dining areas on May 4, and retailers were allowed to open their doors, but with limits ranging from 10% to 25% of customer capacity, depending on the size of the store. Also reopened were gyms, entertainment venues, personal care services and campgrounds. Manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces.

MONTANA: 2 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 17. Total cases: 481. A phased-in business restart began on April 27, following the expiration of a March stay-at-home order. Allowed to reopen were retail stores, restaurants and bars, salons and barber shops, gyms and entertainment venues. Places of worship were also reopened. In early May, some public schools reopened their classrooms in Montana, one of the very few states to allow it.

NEBRASKA: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 167. Total cases: 12,619. One of the few states not to issue a blanket stay-at-home order, Nebraska began to relax its limited, regionally varied “directed health measures” on May 4 with the resumption of elective surgeries. While Governor Pete Ricketts limited public gatherings and urged Nebraskans to stay home, construction, manufacturing and office work continued. Restaurants, which were restricted to takeout in some regions, were allowed to serve a limited number of dining patrons by May 11. Bars and large venue businesses were either operating with limited capacity or ordered to stay closed through May 31.

NEVADA: 13 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 396. Total cases: 8,114 While Las Vegas casinos remain closed, Nevada has been phasing in an economic restart after ordering a statewide shutdown in March. Starting on May 9, restaurants were allowed to seat guests, retailers could operate at 50% of capacity, barbershops and salons could serve customers and drive-in theaters could roll movies. The state’s legal brothels, gyms, and indoor malls are among the businesses still closed.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: 16 deaths per 100,000 Total deaths: 214. Total cases: 4,231. While the state’s March 27 stay-at-home order remains in effect at least through the end of May, some pockets of the economy have been allowed to restart. Starting in May, retailers were allowed to open their doors to customers at up to 50% of capacity. Gyms, barbershops and hair salons also could reopen, while restaurants could seat customers outside and drive-in movie theaters could operate. Construction workers were allowed to return to their jobs.

NEW JERSEY: 126 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 11,339. Total cases: 156,628. The country’s most dense state and one of the hardest hit by the outbreak is emerging from a sweeping March shutdown order incrementally. While bars and dine-in restaurant service remain closed, non-essential construction, curbside pickup for non-essential retailers and drive-in businesses resumed on May 18. Parks reopened in early May, and beaches were set to reopen on May 22. On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy opened the way for the state’s professional sports teams to come back to train and compete.

NEW MEXICO: 15 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 325. Total cases: 7,130. With a March 24 stay-at-home order in effect until at least the end of May, New Mexico has taken limited steps to reopen its economy, though not in all regions. Retail stores were allowed to open at 25% of their customer capacities, places of worship, parks and golf courses have opened and offices were allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. Bars, restaurant dining areas, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

NEW YORK: 150 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 29,339. Total cases: 369,883. A strict March shutdown and stay-at-home order in the most severely affected U.S. state was slowly being lifted by region. Its reopening moves began in mid-May in several upstate areas that were largely unaffected by the surge of cases in the New York City area, and extended to areas along the Hudson River and Long Island on Tuesday and Wednesday, all with social distancing and other restrictions. Construction can resume and retailers may offer curbside pickup or open their doors with capacity limits in those areas. Drive-in movie theaters were among a handful of outdoor, low-risk businesses allowed to reopen statewide on May 15, and state beaches reopened for Memorial Day weekend. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday invited the state’s sports teams to come back to train and compete in empty arenas. Dine-in restaurants, bars and personal care services remain closed.

NORTH CAROLINA: 7 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 794. Total cases: 24,628. The state has moved incrementally to reopen its economy even as a March 30 stay-at-home order remained in effect through most of May. Starting on May 22, retail stores, restaurant dining areas and personal care services were allowed to operate at 50% of their customer capacity. Places of worship and some outdoor recreational areas were also reopened. Earlier in May, the beaches of the state’s Outer Banks were reopened to non-residents.

NORTH DAKOTA: 7 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 56. Total cases: 2,439. The state responded to the outbreak with “a low-mandate, high-compliance approach” that left the “vast majority” of its economy open, according to Governor Doug Burgum. March shutdowns of bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and personal care services, were lifted on May 1 with distancing constraints. Banquet hall gatherings of up to 250 people were permitted on May 15, but sports arenas and entertainment venues remain closed. Most travelers from other countries must quarantine for 14 days.

OHIO: 17 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,044. Total cases: 33,439. The state is slowly unwinding a number shutdown orders it issued in March, including a March 22 stay-at-home order. Manufacturing, construction and office workers were allowed to return to their workplaces on May 4. Retailers could reopen in early May, but only for curbside pickup or by appointment, a limited number of customers at a time. Personal care services, including salons and barber shops, could reopen on May 15, and restaurants can serve customers in outdoor seating areas. On Tuesday, the state reopened fitness centers and a variety of sports and recreational facilities, ranging from batting cages to bowling alleys.

OKLAHOMA: 8 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 322. Total cases: 6,229. The state, among the few not to issue a sweeping statewide shutdown order, has undone the selective closings it ordered in March, which mostly affected businesses in counties where there was community spread of the disease. By May 15, dine-in restaurants, bars, personal care services, gyms, theaters, houses of worship and sports venues were allowed to reopen with social distancing and other restrictions. A “Safer at Home” order directs older residents and those with pre-existing conditions to limit travel. Travelers coming to Oklahoma from six severely infected states are required to quarantine for 14 days.

OREGON: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 148. Total cases: 3,967. Oregon has taken a regional approach to reopen its economy after a number of shutdown orders, including one to “Stay Home, Save Lives,” were issued in March. Retail stores were allowed to reopen with restrictions earlier in May, while restaurant dining areas, gyms and personal care services in many parts of the state were also allowed to operate.

PENNSYLVANIA: 41 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 5,273. Total cases: 73,553. With an April 1 stay-at-home order in effect until at least June 4, the state has taken tentative steps to restart its economy in phases and by region. So far, construction workers have been allowed to return to their job sites, and retail stores have been allowed to reopen with restrictions in some counties. Bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

RHODE ISLAND: 60 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 655. Total cases: 14,353. Since a stay-at-home order expired on May 8, Rhode Island has gradually reopened businesses sector by sector. Manufacturing, construction and office employees have been allowed to return to their workplaces. Retail stores were allowed to operate with restrictions, restaurants may seat customers in outdoor areas, and parks and golf courses are open. Bars and gyms remain closed, but plans are in place to allow fitness classes, salons and barbershops and indoor restaurant dining at 50% of capacity to resume on June 1. At least some beaches reopened on the May 25.

SOUTH CAROLINA: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 446. Total cases: 10,416. After shutting down most businesses for a matter of weeks in late March and early April, the state has been allowing them to reopen, starting in late April. Retail stores, gyms, restaurant dining areas and salons and barbershops have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Zoos, amusement parks, museums and other attractions were set to reopen on May 22.

SOUTH DAKOTA: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 54. Total cases: 4,710. The state did not shut down businesses or issue a stay-at-home order, but many businesses throughout the state, including meat packers, closed temporarily because of the outbreak. Governor Kristi Noem issued a “Back to Normal” plan on April 28 that offers guidance for business reopenings and encourages social distancing and other precautions.

TENNESSEE: 5 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 353. Total cases: 21,306. After closing businesses and ordering residents to stay home in late March and early April, Tennessee has started to reopen its economy, except in some regions. Dine-in restaurants, retail stores, gyms, personal care services and places of worship have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Bowling alleys and arcades also were allowed to reopen, but bars, theaters and sporting and entertainment venues remain closed. Office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces with restrictions.

TEXAS: 5 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,551. Total cases: 57,475. Since its stay-at-home order expired on April 30, Texas has reopened much of its economy by region. In most areas, retail stores, restaurant dining areas, shopping malls, movie theaters and personal care services were allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. Places of worship also have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Manufacturing and office workers were allowed to return to their workplaces. Starting on May 31, the state will allow professional sports to be played without spectators.

UTAH: 3 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 105. Total cases: 8,706. While the state did not issue a blanket shut-down order, some selected businesses were ordered closed locally in March, including personal care and dine-in restaurant services and movie theaters. A March 27 “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive from Governor Gary Herbert asks residents to stay home where possible and reminds businesses to comply with hygiene and distancing measures. Herbert has gradually lowered the state’s color-coded alert status from high-risk red, and declared most counties to be at low-risk yellow on May 16. The status permits the opening of all businesses, bars and dine-in restaurants with precautions.

VERMONT: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 54. Total cases: 971. After the state’s stay-at-home order expired in mid-May, retail stores were allowed to operate with restrictions and state parks and golf courses could open. Public worshipping was limited to drive-in services and fitness center activity was restricted to outdoor classes. Manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces. Bars, restaurant dining areas and personal care services remain closed.

VIRGINIA: 14 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,281. Total cases: 40,249. Although a March 30 stay-at-home order remains in effect, the state has phased in much of its economic reopening, except in the suburban areas surrounding Washington, D.C. Retailers and personal care services can operate with restrictions, restaurants and bars were allowed to offer outdoor seating and fitness centers were permitted to offer outdoor classes. Places of worship were allowed to operate, and campgrounds were reopened.

WASHINGTON: 14 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,078. Total cases: 20,181. In Washington, the first state to have a COVID-19 casualty, some counties have been allowed to reopen businesses even as a March 25 shutdown order remains in effect. The reopenings include retail sales, restaurant dining, personal care services and some fitness center activities, all with restrictions. In select counties, manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces with restrictions. Parks and golf courses were reopened, and public worshipping is limited to drive-in services.

WEST VIRGINIA: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 74. Total cases: 1,867. In West Virginia, among the last states to be hit by a coronavirus infection, businesses have been reopening since a stay-at-home order expired on May 3. The reopenings include restaurant dining areas at 50% of capacity, retail stores, personal care services and gyms, all with restrictions. State parks, campgrounds and drive-in movie theaters are also open. Bars, movie indoor movie theaters, playgrounds, zoos and bowling alleys are among the businesses that were still closed.

WISCONSIN: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 539. Total cases: 16,462. After the state Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order on May 13, the pace of the state’s economic reopening was left to each locality. In what one restaurant trade group official called “a little bit of the Wild, Wild West,” some allowed bar and restaurant owners to open, while others kept their lockdowns in place.

WYOMING: 2 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 13. Total cases: 850. Although Wyoming was among a handful of states that did not issue sweeping shutdown orders, it closed select businesses on March 20, including bars, dine-in restaurants, theaters, personal care services and gyms. On March 25, Governor Mark Gordon urged residents to stay home whenever possible. The targeted shutdowns were rescinded on May 15 and the limit on public gatherings was expanded to 25 from 10.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Americans pass pandemic holiday on beaches, in parks as death toll nears 100,000

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Americans sunbathed on beaches, fished from boats and strolled on boardwalks this holiday weekend, even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 fast approaches 100,000.

The Memorial Day weekend that signals the start of the U.S. summer is normally a time when cemeteries across the nation fill with American flags and ceremonies to remember those who died in U.S. wars.

This year it has also become a time to mourn the loss of more than 97,000 people due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The New York Times filled its entire front page with the names and selected details of 1,000 victims on Sunday seeking to illustrate the humanity of the lives lost.

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. –

“We were trying to capture that personal toll,” Marc Lacey, the newspaper’s national editor, told Reuters. “We were trying to humanize these numbers which keep growing and have reached such unfathomable heights that they’re really hard to grasp any more. …This is about everyday people. It’s about a death toll, reaching a number that’s really just jaw-dropping.”

Among the victims, drawn from obituaries and death notices in hundreds of U.S. newspapers: Lila Fenwick, 87, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law; Romi Cohn, 91, saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo; Hailey Herrera, 25, budding therapist with a gift for empathy.

All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree. In some states, like Illinois and New York, restaurants are still closed to in-person dining and hair salons remain shuttered. In many southern states, most businesses are open, with restrictions on capacity.

Last week, 11 states reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases, including Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally. It is not clear if the cases are rising from more testing or a second wave of infections.

Total U.S. cases are over 1.6 million, the highest in the world, while forecast models for possible COVID-19 deaths predict the death toll will exceed 100,000 by June 1.

Graphic: World-focused tracker with country-by-country interactive –

A plea by health officials and many state governors to wear masks in stores and in public is being met with protest and resistance from some Americans. Social media is filled with videos of businesses turning away a few angry customers who refuse to cover their mouths and noses.

“We need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance. It’s really critically important we have the scientific evidence of how important mask-wearing is to prevent those droplets from reaching others,” Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

While Americans were largely adhering to warnings to maintain social distancing over the holiday weekend, there were notable exceptions.

Graphic: Where coronavirus cases are rising in the United States –

These included some packed beaches in Florida and other gulf states, forcing authorities to break up large gatherings. Videos posted on social media showed parties in other states where people crowded into pools and clubs elbow-to-elbow.

One such party at a Houston club called Cle prompted the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner on Sunday to order firefighters across the metropolitan area to enforce social distancing rules.

Last week Turner said authorities would not forcibly make sure businesses were operating at capacity restrictions of 50% for restaurants and 25% for bars. But he reversed course after more than 250 crowd complaints were phoned into the city by Sunday evening.

“There are too many people who are coming together going to some of our clubs, our bars, to swimming pool parties, with no social distancing, no masks,” Turner said. “It’s clear people are crowding in, looks like to maximum capacity, almost on top of one another.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Sinead Carew and Koh Gui Qing in New York, and Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Diane Craft and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

U.S. CDC reports 1,504,830 coronavirus cases, 90,340 deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday reported 1,504,830 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 24,481 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 933 to 90,340.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on May 18, compared with its count a day earlier. (https://bit.ly/2SGLijD)

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

New cases? Deaths? U.S. states’ reopening plans are all over the map

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has set some distinct goals the federal district needs to meet in order for her to feel comfortable ending a stay-at-home order, she told reporters last week.

If the U.S. capital, which reported more than 7,200 cases and around 400 deaths by Monday, hits certain metrics, including a declining number of cases over 14 days and sustained low transmission rate, she could lift the order before it expires on June 8.

Neighboring Maryland, home to tens of thousands who commute to D.C. for work, is looking at a different set of data to determine whether it is ready to open up. It includes a plateau in the rate of hospitalizations and the number of cases in hospitals’ intensive-care units.

Virginia, home to tens of thousands more who commute to D.C., has another metric altogether. Governor Ralph Northam said in April the state needed to see a decrease in the percentage of positive tests over 14 days, a decrease in hospitalizations, have enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity and a sustainable supply of personal protective equipment.

This situation, with three different leaders using different criteria to decide how to reopen – has been replicated throughout the country, according to data https://www.nga.org/coronavirus-reopening-plans compiled by the National Governors’ Association.

Luisa Franzini, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, said every state seems to be using its own criteria to determine whether to reopen.

None is really meeting all the metrics set out by the federal government, Franzini said. Instead, local governments appear to be picking “what seems to be working for them.”

New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, said it would need 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people, and 90 days of PPE stockpiles before it can “re-open.” Next-door New Jersey is looking for a “14-day trend line” of dropping cases and hospitalizations and has already allowed some beaches to reopen.

Kansas said it needed to see stable or declining case rates over 14 days, but has opened most businesses. Neighboring Missouri, which Kansas City straddles, reopened all business on May 4. South Dakota, site of one of the largest hot spots, said it could not have clusters that posed a risk to the public, and neighboring Minnesota has reopened retail shops.

As the novel coronavirus bore down on the United States, the White House on March 13 issued national state of emergency guidelines and state after state-ordered many businesses closed in a bid to curb the spread.

In April, the federal government provided a set of guidelines on when states should reopen – including declining numbers of COVID-19 cases over the course of 14 days; a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests; and a robust testing program for at-risk healthcare workers.

But, as with many aspects of handling the pandemic, the final say on how to reopen lies with state and local officials, who under the U.S. Constitution hold the authority to make laws related to residents’ health and welfare.

Federal lawmakers, meanwhile, have not set any new standards for workplace safety, although they could.

“There has not been the slightest hint of interest on the part of Congress in creating a national uniform set of rules on business closures and re-openings,” said Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas. None of the guidelines from the White House are legally binding, he noted.

The patchwork approach means that some states may do better than others at controlling infections, experts say.

“I hate to say it in these terms,” said Raymond Scheppach, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, “but I think we’re in a period of experimentation.”

 

(Reporting by Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Dan Grebler)

Coronavirus deadliest in New York City’s black and Latino neighborhoods, data shows

By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Some New York City neighborhoods have seen death rates from the novel coronavirus nearly 15 times higher than others, according to data released by New York City’s health department on Monday, showing the disproportionate toll taken on poor communities.

The data shows for the first time a breakdown on the number of deaths in each of the city’s more than 60 ZIP codes. The highest death rate was seen on the edge of Brooklyn in a neighborhood dominated by a large subsidized-housing development called Starrett City.

Civic leaders had been pushing for the more granular data, which they said would show stark racial and economic disparities after New York City became the heart of one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world in March and April.

In the wealthy, mostly white enclave of Gramercy Park in Manhattan, the rate is 31 deaths per 100,000 residents, the data shows. A long subway ride away in Far Rockaway in the borough of Queens, which is more than 40% black and 25% Latino or Hispanic, the death rate is nearly 15 times higher: 444 deaths per 100,000 residents.

“It’s really heartbreaking and it should tug at the moral conscience of the city,” Mark Levine, chairman of the City Council’s health committee, said in an interview. “We knew we had dramatic inequality. This, in graphic form, shows it’s even greater than maybe many of us feared.”

Poor black and Latino New Yorkers are much more likely to do low-paid, essential jobs that cannot be done remotely, putting them at higher risk of exposure, Levine said. They are also more likely than rich, white New Yorkers to live in smaller, more crowded apartments.

Due to inequalities in access to healthcare, they are also more likely to have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, Levine said.

The city had been releasing a daily update of cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, by ZIP code, but only gave a breakdown of deaths for each of the city’s five boroughs.

The coronavirus has killed at least 20,800 people in the city so far, according to health department data.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

More Americans return to work; concerns grow of a second virus wave

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – Factory workers began returning to assembly lines in Michigan on Monday, paving the way for the reopening of the U.S. auto sector but stoking fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections as strict lockdowns are eased across the country.

With millions of Americans thrown out of work and economic activity cratering, a growing number of states are ending the tough restrictions that were put in place in March and April to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Some auto suppliers in Michigan, a Midwest industrial powerhouse hard hit by the pandemic and its economic fallout, reopened plants on Monday with skeleton crews to get ready for the planned May 18 restart of auto production.

“We’re starting up our foundry this week in anticipation of the orders coming in next week,” Joe Perkins, chief executive of Busche Performance Group, an engineering, casting and machining firm, said in a telephone interview. Busche had been making parts for non-auto customers deemed essential, such as Deere & Co and Emerson Electric Co, but is now firing up its furnaces for auto customers and training employees on how to be safe during the pandemic.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers – General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV – have said they plan to restart vehicle production at their North American plants on May 18.

The auto sector accounts for 6% of U.S. economic output and employs more than 835,000 Americans. The government of Mexico, another important link in North America’s automobile production chain, is expected to make an announcement this week regarding its plans for the industry.

Overall, more than 80,000 Americans have died in the pandemic out of more than 1.34 million known U.S. infections tallied since Jan. 20, according to a Reuters tally. Michigan has counted more than 4,500 deaths related to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, ranking fourth among the 50 U.S. states.

In Ohio, another highly industrial state, the vast majority of retail shops can start serving customers on Tuesday.

Even New York, the epicenter of the U.S. crisis, was set to relax social distancing measures by week’s end in some parts of the state outside Greater New York City.

NEW YORK PHASE-IN

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he expected several parts of the state to begin a phased-in reopening as soon as this weekend after his stay-at-home order expires on May 15.

Certain low-risk businesses and activities like landscaping, tennis courts and drive-in theaters will open, Cuomo told a news conference. “We took the worst situation in the nation and changed the trajectory,” he said.

Rural parts of New York will begin to emerge from the statewide lockdown first. But New York City and its suburbs still must clear some formidable hurdles, including forging a safety plan for its regional subway and commuter rail system.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said restrictions for non-essential businesses may relax next month.

Nearly all of the 50 states have begun loosening restrictions on daily business and social life under growing economic pressure. The pandemic has put more Americans out of work than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s and prompted the U.S. Congress to pass trillions of dollars in emergency aid for workers and businesses.

Republican President Donald Trump, criticized by Democrats for his playing down and mishandling the outbreak, has been pushing for the reopening of the economy, which is seen as key to his chances of re-election in the Nov. 3 election.

In a Monday tweet, Trump again accused Democrats of taking their time lifting restrictions to embarrass him, a charge they have previously denied.

Public health experts have warned that moving too quickly to reopen, without vastly expanded diagnostic testing and other precautions firmly in place, risks fueling a resurgence of the virus. Polling shows a majority of Americans also concerned.

A surge of new infections in Germany and South Korea, both of which had been praised for acting aggressively after the outbreak spread from China early this year, suggested early efforts to lift restrictions could be premature.

Trump and officials from his administration scheduled a 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) news briefing on Monday to discuss testing.

The White House has directed staff to wear masks at all times in the building, except when they are at their own desks, a senior administration official said on Monday. Trump’s valet and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary both tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, Maria Caspani in New York, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lamber in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Steve Gorman and Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)