States begin reopening as antibody testing gets debated

U.S. states began slowly relaxing stiff restrictions on public movement, amid a widening debate over ending nationwide lockdowns as confirmed coronavirus cases in the world’s largest economy showed signs of leveling out.

The COVID-19 crisis continued to hold the global economy in its thrall, with the worldwide case count climbing above 2.4 million on Monday, with deaths surging beyond 166,000.

The U.S. accounts for nearly a quarter of the global cases at more than 764,000, and over 40,000 deaths. Yet hopes to reopen the economy are being bracketed by hopes for increased coronavirus testing and treatment — while parts of the country erupt in protest over stay-at-home orders that have shut down most big cities.

However, with new coronavirus cases growing at a slower clip in most of the U.S., officials are hopeful that some parts of the country could begin to reopen in the coming months.Yet mass testing of the potentially infected or recovering remains the biggest hurdle — and one many states and localities are unable to overcome immediately.

Given that little is known about the virus, some observers are worried about a new wave of COVID-19 infections, a phenomenon that parts of Asia are currently facing. Jennifer Ellice, a Los Angeles emergency room physician, told Yahoo Finance there is a real chance of a second surge hitting the country, undermining efforts to restart public life.

“We also need widespread testing…we are still rationing testing in many hospitals around the country,” she said, adding that antibody testing could help provide confidence to open up again.

And the Big Apple remains the epicenter of new infections, even as hospitalizations and new cases fall. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced on Monday the cancelation of all non-essential events in June, including the widely attended Pride March and Puerto Rican Day Parade, underscoring the city’s difficult path to normalizing activity.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has started a push toward testing antibodies, but he added the effort must be available at all levels of government to be useful. He also highlighted the disproportionate impact of the virus on women and people of color, who make up a large portion of the essential employees who have been working through the outbreak.

“The economy did not close down. It closed down, frankly, for the people who have the luxury of staying home,” Cuomo said.

“All those essential workers who had to get up every morning…those people worked, and went out there and exposed themselves to the virus,” he added.

New York’s prominence in the crisis has made the state a focus for testing, which includes hydroxychloroquine, a generic drug used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The treatment has shown anecdotal promise, and has been touted by President Donald Trump as a potential game-changer.

Cuomo said on Monday the results of the trials in 20 NY hospitals were sent to the officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has currently approved four antibody tests, and recently warned there are many on the market that could have been validated by labs but are not FDA approved yet.

Reopening in parts of the country

As Congress and the Trump administration ready a second tranche of money to the widely criticized Paycheck Protection Program designed to rescue small businesses, the discussion over whether its safe to reopen key parts of the economy remains heated.

Tourist areas like Las Vegas have been among the hardest hit. Wynn Resorts is calling for a phased reopening and following social distancing in order to help the hurting economy.

In the last few days, beaches in Florida and South Carolina were reopened, while Texas and Idaho were among the states looking at a “Phase 1” reopening.

According to federal guidelines, Phase 1 seeks to create a second tier of essential workers to start working again while maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and keeping the most vulnerable isolated. Texas on Monday planned to reopen parks, but with restrictions.

However, most states have stated an intention to maintain in stay-at-home orders until near the end of the month or beyond.

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Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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