'Like I just got out of jail!': US states ease COVID lockdowns
A customer eats inside the Horseshoe Cafe Friday, May 1, 2020, in Wickenburg, Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)
More than a dozen US states let restaurants, stores or other businesses reopen Friday in the biggest one-day push yet to get their economies up and running again, acting at their own speed and with their own quirks and restrictions to make sure the coronavirus doesn't come storming back.
People in Louisiana could eat at restaurants again but had to sit outside at tables 10 feet apart with no waiter service. Maine residents could attend church services as long as they stayed in their cars. And a Nebraska mall reopened with plexiglass barriers and hand-sanitizing stations but few shoppers.
“I feel like I just got out of jail!” accountant Joy Palermo exclaimed as she sat down with a bacon-garnished bloody Mary at the Gretna Depot Cafe outside New Orleans.
Meanwhile, the first drug shown to help fight COVID-19 won emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. In a major study, remdesivir shortened patients' recovery time from 15 days to 11 on average and may have also reduced deaths.
The virus has killed more than 230,000 people worldwide, including over 64,000 in the US and more than 20,000 each in Italy, Britain, France and Spain, forcing lockdowns that have shuttered factories and businesses, thrown tens of millions out of work and throttled the world's economies.
With the crisis stabilizing in Europe and in many places in the US, countries and states are gradually easing their restrictions amid warnings from health experts that a second wave of infections could hit unless testing for the virus is expanded dramatically.
In much of Colorado, people could get their hair cut and shop at stores again, though stay-at-home orders remained in place in Denver and surrounding counties. Wyoming let barbershops, nail salons, gyms and daycare centers reopen. In Maine, golf courses, hairdressers and dentists opened.
Hotels near South Carolina beaches opened and state parks unlocked their gates for the first time in more than a month. But in Myrtle Beach, the state’s most popular tourist destination, hotel elevators will be restricted to one person or one family — a potential inconvenience at the area's 15- and 20-story resorts.
Texas’ reopening got underway with sparse crowds at shopping malls and restaurants allowing customers to dine in, though only at 25 per cent capacity.
At Gattuso’s Restaurant in Gretna, Louisiana, Kent and Doris Alimia and their daughters, Molly and Emily, celebrated Molly Alimia’s 22nd birthday at one of the outdoor tables, which were screened by plants in wooden planters five feet high.
“It’s a nice change of scenery to actually get out of the house,” Molly Alimia said.
Outside Omaha, Nebraska, Jasmine Ramos was among a half-dozen shoppers wandering the open-air Nebraska Crossing mall. Most wore masks.
“I do think it’s a little soon, but it’s kind of slow and there aren’t a lot of people here, so I’m not too worried,” Ramos said.
Around the country, protesters have demanded governors reboot the battered economy. More than 100 people chanted and carried signs in front of the Chicago’s Thompson Center, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker has an office, to call for an end to the statewide lockdown.
“When do we open up?” asked Mark Curran, a former sheriff in nearby Lake County. “We need a rational conversation about that.“
Pritzker, like many other governors weighing the risks of reopening, said he wants as much as anyone “for everybody to get back to work and for us to move toward normalcy,“ but “I’m not going to do it until we know people are safe.”
In the hardest-hit corner of the US, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said schools and colleges will remain closed through the rest of the academic year.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the state’s Riot Control Act as she sealed off all roads to nonessential traffic in the city of Gallup, population 70,000, to help control a surging coronavirus outbreak in the former trading post on the outskirts of the Navajo reservation.
Elsewhere around the world, Beijing’s Forbidden City, the imperial palace turned museum that is one of China’s biggest tourist attractions, started welcoming visitors again, and Bangladesh began reopening factories.
Across Europe and Asia, millions of workers marked May Day, or international labor day, trapped between hunger and fear — struggling without jobs or worried they don’t have enough workplace protections against the virus.
In Turkey, protesters attempted to stage an unauthorized demonstration. Paris residents held a musical protest against the French government's handling of the crisis, singing from balconies and windows to plead for workplace masks, health insurance and more aid for the jobless.
In Greece, demonstrators lined up two metres (six feet) apart in careful rows in Athens’ Syntagma Square. Organizers in masks and gloves used tape measures and large colored squares to set out exact positions for the protesters.
In the US, Shani and Sergei Oveson were excited to resume dine-in seating at their small Salt Lake City restaurant, which has seen an 85 per cent drop in sales since mid-March. Their place, the Ramen Bar, had only half the normal seating capacity because of social-distancing requirements.
“We’re really excited to be open, but at the same time we’re scared that the virus will reignite and we’ll have to close again, which would be so hard for us,” Shani Oveson said. “Owning your own business can be so scary financially, we have to risk getting sick to survive.”