Seven Northeastern states extended a shutdown until May 15 to contain the coronavirus pandemic, even as President Donald Trump prepared to unveil recommendations to begin easing the lockdown in the least-affected US states, possibly as early as 1 May.
The White House said Trump would hold a news conference at 2200 GMT to "explain the guidelines for opening upAmerica again." The Republican president, who has staked hisre-election in November on the strength of the U.S. economy, hasstressed the urgency of an early, phased opening to reverse thesudden economic devastation caused by the shutdown.
But his May 1 target date has raised concerns about thedangers of lifting restrictions before widespread testing andproper protocols have been put in place.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo preempted Trump's briefing bysaying on Thursday morning that he would extend his stay-at-homeorder by another two weeks in cooperation with six neighboringstates that have formed a regional alliance. He ordered theextension even though key metrics such as hospitalizations werepointing to a stabilization in the outbreak in New York state.
Last week, Los Angeles extended its restrictions to May 15,and the District of Columbia did the same on Wednesday.
"What happens after that, I don't know - we will see,depending on what the data says," Cuomo, whose state is thehardest hit in the United States with more than 40% of thecountry's 32,000 dead, told a news briefing.
In addition to the seven-state East Coast coalition, threegovernors from the West Coast have vowed to work together on areopening in their region and seven in the Midwest on Thursdayannounced a similar alliance.
The restrictions have strangled the U.S. economy to anextent not seen since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.Another 5.2 million more Americans sought unemployment benefitslast week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, liftingtotal filings for claims over the past month to more than 22million.
"Really, there's no comparable event in American economichistory," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoorrecruiting site. "This crisis combines the scale of a national,if not global, downturn with the pace of a natural disaster."
On Wednesday, Trump said data suggested new cases havepeaked and that industry leaders in a round of calls offered himgood insights into how to safely restart the economy.
A senior White House official said the guidelines to bereleased later on Thursday would be backed by medical experts onhis coronavirus task force.
"The president's new guidelines are in fact that. They arerecommendations. They are flexible. They are data-driven," theofficial said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Public health experts and business leaders say thatcomprehensive testing for the coronavirus is a prerequisite forabandoning stay-at-home orders and other social distancingmeasures to ensure there is no resurgence of infections and inorder for people to feel safe.
U.S. cases were nearing 650,000 on Thursday and rose by30,000 on Wednesday, the biggest increase in five days,according to a Reuters tally. But not all states have beenstruck equally.
Eighteen states have recorded fewer than 100 deaths fromCOVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.