U.S. states on Friday continued to lay out plans for a gradual relaxation of coronavirus lockdowns, as the latest jobs report showed how badly the pandemic has crippled the world’s largest economy.
Worldwide, the outbreak has infected more than 3.9 million, and killed more than 272,000. In the U.S., cases are nearing 1.3 million, led by New York and New Jersey, while the death toll reaching 76,000. The crisis has even touched the highest levels of government, with at least 2 White House aides testing positive for COVID-19 in the past few days.
As a number of states prepare a slow restart of public life, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate surged to 14.7% in the month of April, the worst since the Great Depression, wiping out 20.5 million jobs. However, markets rallied on expectations that the gradual roll back of stay-at-home orders will put the economy on a path to recovery.
States including Texas, California and Georgia have begun talking modest steps toward normalizing public life, such as allowing limited retail activity with social distancing restrictions and face masks. On Friday, Apple (AAPL) announced it would reopen a handful of stores in four states.
On Friday, Rhode Island, the country’s smallest state that boasts the most testing per capita, entered the first phase of its own reopening. Stefan Pryor, the state’s Secretary of Commerce, told Yahoo Finance Friday that the next part of phase one is outdoor dining— a staple during the warmer months in the state.
“We’re aiming to be an exemplar and share out lessons to the rest of the country,” Pryor said.
Yet some experts have doubts about how prudent some reopening strategies are. Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at University of Alabama, told Yahoo Finance that “confusion” is dominating critical decisions between the federal government and local officials tasked to make sure that it’s safe to reopen.
“It’s very risky” to reopen at this juncture, Judd said, adding that cases will likely keep climbing.
She added that testing — which is considered a linchpin in the reopening strategy — but “we need to get it much higher than it is. It would be good if we can get to the point where we’ve tested at least 20-30% of the population…but we don’t have to test 100% of the population.”
A significant number of the jobs lost to the pandemic were in the health care sector. Many have been the result of deferred elective procedures and regular visits, as health providers pivoted to emergency care.
But another segment of the population has also been hard hit— minorities. People of color are among those most impacted by the virus and lost jobs. Christopher Hayes, a labor historian at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, said the outbreak is exacerbating the racial wealth gap in the country.
“The federal government’s failure to address COVID-19 has torn away any hard-won gains,” Hayes said. “African Americans are not only suffering disproportionately in terms of health and mortality, but they are overrepresented among the unemployed and destitute.”
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