States slowly reopen as experts ponder post-lockdown ‘new normal’

The global coronavirus pandemic showed no signs of slowing on Monday, even as some regions of the world are reopening, and some U.S. states are following suit.

Worldwide case counts have topped 3.5 million, while the death toll has risen to near 250,000. In the U.S., more than 1.1 million have been infected, and more than 67,000 have died.

Though the country’s hotspots, New York and New Jersey, have seen sustained day-over-day declines, other recently re-opened parts of the country, like Florida and Georgia, have recorded increases. The uncertainty has unsettled investors, which pushed stocks into the red for the second consecutive day.

Amid a furious debate about how much states and cities should relax lockdowns, officials have voiced increasing concerns about higher deaths and infections — especially in the world’s largest economy, where testing capacity for infections and antibodies remain in flux. The New York Times reported on Monday that the Trump administration projects a sharp near-term rise in coronavirus infections, to 3,000 in June.

“This is not a sustainable situation,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday, adding that “reopening is more difficult than the close down.”

Both New York and New Jersey will keep their schools closed for the remainder of the academic year. The Garden State has slowly reopened parks and golf courses, but the Gov. Phil Murphy has warned he’ll reverse that decision if social distancing measures aren’t followed.

A big debate over testing

The coronavirus has infected over 1.1 million, and killed nearly 68,000.

The debate about relaxing lockdowns has become tightly linked to the availability of testing and treatment, one reason why Gilead (GILD)’s experimental drug has been greeted with so much optimism.

Yet the reopening debate has been dogged by fears of a second wave of illnesses that could force states to beat a hasty retreat. On Monday, Morgan Stanley’s analysts wrote in a research note that “additional waves of infections” are all but guaranteed.

However, “the development of medical solutions to treat and prevent the disease and the awareness of the population at large means we have a much better chance to reduce the size and scope of future outbreaks,” the bank added.

“We need better guidance (about) how to live in this new normal,” said Dara Kass, an emergency physician at Columbia University Medical Center and a contributor for Yahoo News.

“The first question anyone out in a park should ask themselves is where is the nearest place I can get a test in my community,” Kass told Yahoo Finance on Monday. “If you can’t answer that question right now, you probably shouldn’t be going outside.”

However, the economic toll is growing increasingly painful for consumers and businesses alike. Retail chain J. Crew has filed for bankruptcy, adding to concerns over whether some companies can survive the COVID-19 fallout.

The travel sector has been hammered by air and sea shutdowns — amplified by Berkshire Hathaway  (BRK-A, BRK-B) CEO Warren Buffett’s revelation Saturday that the company has shed its entire stake in major U.S. airlines. Those stocks fell sharply in intraday trading.

Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) announced it is targeting an August 1 restart date for cruises in North America.

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee, which was convened to analyze the global pandemic, is recommending member states work together to strategize reopening of their economies, with a focus on air travel and what the consequences are in resuming flights. The organization has come under heavy fire for perceptions that it’s been too deferential to China, something that prompted the U.S. to pull its WHO funding in April.

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

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