The U.S. passed 50,000 coronavirus deaths on Friday and is closing in on nearly 1 million infections as several states around the nation begin implementing plans for reopening businesses and easing social distancing.
On Friday the Johns Hopkins coronavirus database listed 50,031 U.S. deaths and more than 870,000 infections. Due to a lack of testing, the actual number of infections is likely to be much higher.
Despite warnings from national health leaders that the country could face a second wave of the virus in late 2020, states and cities are drafting or implementing plans to get people out of their homes and back into mainstream life.
"We will have coronavirus in the fall," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the White House's Coronavirus Task force. "I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature. What happens with that will depend on how we’re able to contain it when it occurs."
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Meanwhile the death toll continues to rise and drop at sporadic rates. On Thursday, for instance, the U.S. followed up four days of decreased death totals with one of its deadliest days yet, with over 3,000 deaths.
The latest milestone comes at an incongruous time when many states, under intense pressure from not only the White House but also their own citizens, announce plans to allow people back to work.
Governors of more than a dozen states in the past 10 days — including California, Florida, Alaska, Tennessee, Colorado and Georgia — have detailed their hope to slowly phase out lockdowns and restrictions on businesses.
Some are only allowing minor reopenings. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California was not prepared "to open up large sectors of our society" but made the first modification to the state's stay-at-home order with the resumption of "essential" surgeries.
“Tumors, heart valves, the need for people to get the kind of care they deserve," Newsom said. "If it’s delayed, it becomes acute. This fundamentally is a health issue.”
Others are more aggressive. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he was allowing certain businesses to reopen on April 24, including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, barbers, cosmetologists and massage therapists. Georgia’s timetable is one of the most aggressive in the nation.
“Each of these entities will subject to specific restrictions, including adherence to the basic minimum operations, social distancing and regular sanitation,” Kemp said.
Much of the push is economic. Even beyond the death tally, the virus has taken unprecedented toll on American life.
Unemployment in the U.S. is swelling to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 1 in 6 American workers thrown out of a job by the coronavirus, according to new data released Thursday. In response to the deepening economic crisis, the House passed a nearly $500 billion spending package to help buckled businesses and hospitals.
More than 4.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government reported. In all, roughly 26 million people — the population of the 10 biggest U.S. cities combined — have filed for jobless aid in five weeks, an epic collapse that has raised the stakes in the debate over how and when to ease the shutdowns of factories and other businesses.
Janet Simon, laid off as a waitress at a Miami IHOP restaurant, said she has just $200 and is getting panic attacks because of uncertainty over how she will care for her three children. Simon, 33, filed for unemployment a month ago, and her application is still listed as “pending.”
“I’m doing everything to keep my family safe, my children safe, but everything else around me is falling apart,” Simon said. “But they see it, no matter how much I try to hide my despair.”
In northern Colorado, a major meatpacking plant that closed because of an outbreak that claimed the lives of four workers was set to reopen Friday after a two-week disinfection, even as some questioned how employees can maintain social distancing inside the facility.
In the hardest-hit corner of the U.S., evidence emerged that perhaps 2.7 million New York state residents have been infected by the virus – 10 times the number confirmed by lab tests.
Abroad, there was mixed news about the epidemic. Some countries, including Greece, Bangladesh and Malaysia, announced extensions of their lockdowns. Vietnam, New Zealand and Croatia were among those moving to end or ease such measures.
In Africa, COVID-19 cases surged 43% in the past week to 26,000, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in Africa and push 30 million into desperate poverty.
Brazil’s health ministry confirmed 407 deaths due to the outbreak in the last 24 hours, a daily high for the country.
While the health crisis has eased in places like Italy, Spain and France, experts say it is far from over, and the threat of new outbreaks looms large.
“The question is not whether there will be a second wave,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s Europe office. “The question is whether we will take into account the biggest lessons so far."
Contributing: Jorge Ortiz; Lorenzo Reyes, Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; Associated Press