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Governors tiptoe toward reopening across the country

Governors are tiptoeing toward allowing businesses to reopen in their states, a gamble that will have ramifications for both the coronavirus epidemic and the economy. 

On Monday, governors in Texas and Ohio announced phased reopening plans that will allow some businesses to resume operations over the coming weeks if they follow safety requirements. 

Montana, Colorado and Tennessee will allow retailers and other businesses to reopen this week in some capacity.

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State lawmakers are facing both political and economic pressures as President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE and protesters push for quick reopenings and the loss of sales tax revenues strangle state budgets. Governors are trying to balance public health with the health of the economy, which has seen millions of people laid off since March.

“The virus is still out there, it's not just going to go away,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said during a Monday press conference.  “But there are a lot of things we can do to lessen its impact, and we've been doing those and we just have to continue to do those at the same time we're trying to get folks back to work.”

More than 26 million people have claimed unemployment benefits in the past five weeks, a record-breaking total that likely underestimates the number of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. On the other hand, since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., almost 1 million people have fallen ill, and more than 55,000 of them have died. 

Striking a balance between public health and the suffering economy is a challenge for governors made harder by the lack of testing and public health employees that are needed to monitor positive cases and prevent outbreaks. States with Republican governors, generally, are moving the fastest toward reopening, while Democratic governors are more cautious. 

“I don’t think we have necessarily gotten testing and surveillance efforts where they need to be to ... prevent large outbreaks from happening, especially if you look across the whole of the United States,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

“I expect we will see more cases, though, once we open back up. We know the vast majority of the population are not immune.” 

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States that are allowing some retailers and restaurants to reopen, including Tennessee, Alaska and Oklahoma, are trying to mitigate that risk by requiring stores to operate at half their capacity or less. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) faced backlash from mayors in his state, health experts and even the president over his decision to allow nail salons, gyms, bowling alleys and other businesses to reopen last week. 

Other states like Ohio and Minnesota are beginning by letting manufacturing firms and similar companies resume business. 

Mina said it will likely take a few weeks to know what impact the reopenings will have on the spread of the coronavirus and whether those measures are effective. 

Governors face decisions this week about whether to extend stay-at-home orders expiring in Arizona, Minnesota, Maine, Nevada, Alabama and Florida. 

Governors are likely to extend those orders, as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) did last week, or let them expire while letting retailers and businesses reopen if they take extra precautions and operate at smaller capacities. 

“Folks should see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not going to be something that a switch is going to be flipped. This is going to be methodical and data-driven,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisPolice called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Officials: Florida man changed Gov. DeSantis's address, delaying him from voting Voting rights groups warn of problems in Florida MORE (R) said Monday at a press conference. 

Louisiana has seen one of the worst outbreaks in the South, with more than 26,000 cases, including 1,729 deaths. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced Monday he would extend the state’s stay-at-home order through May 15. After that, restaurants can resume dine-in services and personal care businesses can reopen at reduced capacity. 

“I am anxious to get all areas of our economy reopened, but if we accelerate too quickly, we may have to slam on the brakes. That will be bad for public health and for businesses, bad for our people and bad for our state,” Edwards said in a statement.

However, governors of some states with large populations, including New York, New Jersey and California, have not given timelines for reopenings in their states. 

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoPaul Rudd hands out cookies to long lines of early voters waiting in rain Two events in NY county turn into superspreaders that infect 56 people Justice Department expands inquiry into NY nursing home COVID-19 death count MORE (D) said Monday he will extend the state’s stay-at-home order, which expires May 15, for parts of the state but left it open to whether some localities could have restrictions lifted. 

“We’ll have to be smart about it. There is no light switch when you flip a switch and everybody goes back to what they were doing,” Cuomo said during a press conference Monday. 

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“If you are not smart, that infection rate will go back right to where it was. We’ll be right back to where we were 58 days ago.” 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said Monday that his state’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect until further notice and expanded testing and contact tracing will be needed before businesses can reopen. 

“We need to continue focusing on our social distancing and taking the steps necessary to push the curves of new cases, new hospitalizations, the COVID-19 related deaths down, so we can move in turn down this road," Murphy said. "I don't know when we'll be able to formally and finally start this journey. Hopefully, if we all keep at it, it will be soon.”