WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The White House let its 2-week-old economic reopening guidelines expire on Thursday as half of all U.S. states forged ahead with their own strategies for easing restrictions on restaurants, retail and other businesses shuttered by the coronavirus crisis.
The enormous pressure on states to reopen, despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and other safeguards urged by health experts, was highlighted in new Labor Department data showing some 30 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits since March 21.
The jobless toll amounts to more than 18.4% of the U.S. working-age population, a level not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Physical separation of people – by closing schools, businesses and other places of social gatherings – remains the chief weapon against a highly contagious respiratory virus with no vaccine and no cure.
But with economic pain reaching historic proportions, agitation to relax stay-at-home orders and mandatory workplace restrictions has mounted.
For the second time in two weeks, hundreds of protesters – including armed militia group members – thronged Michigan’s state Capitol in Lansing demanding an end to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.
The latest protest was sparked by the Democratic governor’s request, ignored by Republican lawmakers, to extend emergency powers she had invoked in a state hard hit by both the virus and closures to combat it.