Governors face tough decisions as coronavirus lockdowns set to expire by May 1
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Lockdown orders are set to expire by May 1 in nearly two dozen states even as new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, forcing governors across the country to decide whether to lift the orders or extend them.
As of Monday morning, the states whose lockdown orders expire by May 1 are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
At least three of those states – Florida, South Carolina and Texas – have already lifted some restrictions or plan to this week.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, gave the green light for some outdoor areas in the state to reopen late last week even as he cautioned that social distancing guidelines should remain in place. Florida has been one of the state’s hardest hit by the contagion with almost 26,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 764 deaths.
The state was one of the last in the nation to order a lockdown and was heavily criticized for leaving beaches open during part of the spring break period last month. But by late Friday afternoon, thousands of people flooded the beaches in places like Jacksonville after they reopened despite pleas from mayors to practice safe social distancing measures.
In nearby South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is set to announce on Monday the reopening of state beaches and some retail stores. McMaster already reinstated last Friday access to public boat ramps and landings.
Under the loosening of lockdown orders, South Carolinians will be able to head to the beach – albeit while practicing social distancing – as well as to furniture, jewelry and clothing stores. Beaches and retail stores in the Palmetto State have been closed for just over two weeks as it tried to curb the spread of the virus.
Trey Walker, the governor’s chief of staff, told the Post and Courier that infection rates in the state have dropped enough to make easing restrictions feasible.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced over the weekend that state parks will reopen for recreational activity on Monday, so long as citizens wear masks and maintain a distance of six feet from each other. Additionally, no groups larger than five people will be allowed to congregate.
Subsequent measures will allow hospitals to resume elective tests and surgeries while stores can start “retail to go” services, starting on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
Abbott first issued an order telling Texans to stay at home starting April 1, but he never accepted that it was a stay-at-home lockdown in the same manner as those adopted by other states. The order is set to expire on April 30, which puts Texas on track to match the federally suggested timeline.
President Trump announced last Thursday the White House’s guidelines for eventually rolling back social distancing measures and reopening the country’s economy in several phases, depending on location. The plan calls for three phases to reopening the country, based on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in each individual state or region.
Both the White House plan and the partial easing of lockdown orders in some states comes amid protests across the country over the economic impact the stay-at-home orders are having on the country.
Trump tried to assure the nation’s governors that they’re “going to call your own shots,” even as he encouraged the protests against stay-at-home mandates in three states led by Democratic governors aimed at stopping the coronavirus.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” Trump said in a tweetstorm. A protest against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders drew thousands of cars and trucks to the state capital of Lansing last week, while a smaller protest against Gov. Ralph Northam took place in Richmond, Va.
The protests – mainly organized by conservative groups – will continue this upcoming week as states across the country gear up for their own rallies in places like in Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wisconsin.
While governors in a few states are rapidly moving ahead to reopen their economies, others are decrying what they say is a lack of a coordinated approach between the federal government and the states toward lifting lockdown measures.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and 16 other state leaders representing half the nation’s population have organized three separate clusters of states each committed to working together on the details of relaunching businesses, schools and events while avoiding a resurgence of infections.
The pacts have formed among states mostly with Democratic governors on the West Coast, around the Great Lakes and in the densely populated Northeast, covering several big metropolitan areas that cross state lines, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
California, Oregon and Washington state have teamed up, and pacts have formed among Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island as well as Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Republican and Democratic governors said they would be cautious on reopening and warned they won’t be able to expand testing without help from the Trump administration.
The alliances could prevent difficult situations: For example, Ohio allowing nonessential employees back into Cincinnati while schools and daycares in suburban northern Kentucky remained closed. They could prevent issues such as commuters riding on New Jersey Transit trains without masks but finding they’re required to get on subways that take them the rest of the way to work in New York City.
The efforts are just getting started, so it’s not yet clear how coordinated state action ultimately will be.
The West Coast states say it’s important to coordinate the metrics used to determine when it will be safe to start reopening. The Northeast alliance is expected to draft a report.
Fox News Peter Aitken and The Associated Press contributed to this report.