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US death toll in coronavirus outbreak surpasses 90,000

Tyrone Beason
Los Angeles Times

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 climbed over 90,000 on Monday as more states and cities announced plans to slowly reopen their economies and test their residents.

The number of confirmed cases nationwide neared 1.5 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking infections and deaths. Experts have cautioned that cases and death tolls likely undercount the real cost of the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite the rising death toll, the nation’s hardest hit city, New York, saw a decline in its daily rate of new hospitalizations for patients suspected of having the novel coronavirus to 48, down from 77 the day before, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Monday.

Marie Biscarra, co-owner of ISSO fashion boutique, finishes writing a sign declaring her business open for curbside delivery on Monday, May 18, 2020, in San Francisco.

De Blasio called the drop “a wonderful sign” that the virus is easing its grip on the city of 8.6 million, but he cautioned that the city won’t be ready to start relaxing some social distancing restrictions until the first half of June at the earliest.

He has said nonessential workers will be urged to work from home “for the foreseeable future” and that he hopes students can return to classrooms at the start of the new academic year in September.

The last thing he wants to do, he said, is to act too early and create a false sense of security, only to spark a new wave of infections as people return to their usual social habits.

“Our goal is to get it right the first time,” de Blasio said. “We cannot have something where we have to shut down again. … It’s going to be day by day, week by week.”

With summer approaching, he said social distancing at the city’s beaches would remain in place, and for anyone thinking about going out for drinks at a bar or restaurant as those establishments reopen, de Blasio had this advice: “Get your drink and go home. Do not allow gatherings to occur. It’s just not safe.”

Gov. Phil Murphy of neighboring New Jersey struck an even more cautious tone, saying residents in his state shouldn’t expect work or social life to return to anything close to normal until a proven vaccine becomes widely available, which public experts say could take a year or more.

But on Monday, Murphy signed an order allowing the reopening of some outdoor recreational facilities, including tennis clubs, community gardens, golf courses and shooting ranges. Over the last week, he’s loosened restrictions on nonessential construction, retail businesses, beaches, boardwalks and lakes.

New Jersey has the second-highest death toll after New York, with more than 10,400 fatalities from COVID-19 as of Monday, Murphy said. New York state has more than 28,200 deaths from the outbreak, according to Johns Hopkins.

In Michigan, which has also been hit hard with more than 4,800 deaths, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that bars, restaurants and retail businesses in some less-affected parts of the state will be allowed to reopen as soon as Friday, but with reduced capacity. She said the easing of restrictions applies to the state’s Upper Peninsula and more than a dozen counties in the Lower Peninsula, including the popular vacation destination Traverse City.

Michigan, where armed protesters as well as Republican legislators have railed against Whitmer’s restrictions, overall remains under a stay-at-home order until May 28.

The virus has ravaged the state’s African American community. Blacks make up over a third of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan, despite representing 14% of the population.

Detroit, the state’s biggest city, which is 80% black, became an epicenter for virus in March and April. Mayor Mike Duggan has announced that free coronavirus testing would be available to every resident at locations across his city starting Wednesday.

Testing is ramping up in other parts of the country as well.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday that all residents, including those without symptoms, can now get a free COVID-19 test in his state, where public health officials say 878 people have died from the virus.

And in New York City, testing is now available at more than 150 sites, and test kits made in the city are being used at city-run health clinics, de Blasio said Monday.