New York (Reuters) – A total of nine states on the U.S. East and West coasts said on Monday they had begun planning for the slow reopening of their economies and lifting of strict stay-at-home orders amid signs the worst had passed in the U.S. coronavirus pandemic.
The Northeast states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will work with Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in coordinating to gradually reopen their economies together, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
“Nobody has been here before, nobody has all the answers,” Cuomo said during an open conference call with his five counterparts. “Addressing public health and the economy: Which one is first? They’re both first.”
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington said they also had reached an agreement on a shared approach to restarting businesses, although they gave no firm timeline and said they would be guided by the health of residents first.
U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier on Monday that any decision on restarting the economy was his to make.
Tensions between state governors and Trump have bubbled up since the outbreak worsened a month ago and emerged in the debate about when and how to restart economic activity.
Legal experts say a U.S. president has limited power under the U.S. Constitution to order citizens back to their places of employment, or cities to reopen government buildings, transportation, or local businesses to reopen.
“It is the decision of the president, and for many good reasons,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday. He went on to write that his administration was working closely with the governors.
“A decision by me, in conjunction with the governors and input from others, will be made shortly!” Trump’s tweet said.
Political leaders said a reopening of the economy may hinge on more widespread testing and cautioned that lifting of stay-at-home restrictions too early could reignite the outbreak. The Trump administration has signaled May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions.
Death Toll Tops 23,000
The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 23,000 on Monday, according to a Reuters tally with a total of nearly 570,000 U.S. cases. The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country.
But fatalities reported on Sunday numbered 1,513, the smallest increase since 1,309 died on April 6. The largest number of fatalities, over 10,000, was in New York state with the concentration in and around New York City.
Cuomo said on Monday that “the worst is over” for his state but warned that gains achieved through social distancing could be undone if “we do something stupid” and relax those restrictions too quickly.
Wyoming reported its first death from the coronavirus on Monday, the final U.S. state to report a fatality.
Official statistics, which exclude deaths outside of hospitals, have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, health experts said.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot acknowledged a “tightening” of the supply chain for swabs needed in coronavirus testing, and said it was part of a “national and international challenge” to ramp up testing.
Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, said testing for the coronavirus had improved “but we don’t have enough. Nobody has enough.”
“There’s just a limited supply for a massive amount of demand,” Sununu told CNN.
To ease the impact of the shutdown on the U.S. economy, the two top Democrats in the U.S. Congress urged Republicans on Monday to authorize more funding for national testing. An effort to rush fresh assistance to U.S. small businesses stalled in Congress as the health emergency failed to overcome partisan differences between Republicans and Democrats.