More than 630,000 people have tested positive in the US with at least 30,844 deaths linked to the virus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. About 15% of those deaths — 4,811 — were reported Wednesday alone.
Even as the death toll grows in the US, the question of whether to ease social distancing mandates has dominated discussions.
Experts warned that for that to happen, increased coronavirus testing will have to be conducted nationwide to track how much the virus has penetrated communities and enable officials to separate those who are infected.
“It does us no good to send everybody back to work and then get everybody sick,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said. “What it does do us good is to be able to send people back to work who, one, may be immune because they’ve had it, two, have just been tested and they’re symptom free, and, three, we have the resources necessary should someone get sick that it doesn’t become a hot spot. That’s what all of the experts and people are trying to get to … Because otherwise you are sending people back out there with a chance to get this thing.”
In addition to testing to proactively contain the virus, frontline workers need adequate supplies of protective gear to prevent its spread, said Jeff Johnson, the state director of Florida’s AARP.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also called rapid testing the key to determining when emergency restrictions can be lifted. “We need to build the equivalent of a fire brigade,” he said.
“I wish I had a crystal ball to say when, why, what game, what day, what sport,” the governor said. “I can’t do that.”
Protesters rally against restrictions in two states
Medical experts have emphasized that the key to fewer coronavirus cases is for people to practice social distancing. As a result, all but seven states are under stay-at-home orders from their governors.
But in at least two states, protesters rallied against the social distancing mandates, calling them a violation of individual freedoms.
In Lansing, Michigan, vehicles jammed several streets around the capitol in a protest organized by conservative groups against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“It’s time for our state to be opened up. We’re tired of not being able to buy the things that we need,” Brenda Essman of Kalamazoo told CNN affiliate WLNS. “We need to open our businesses.”
And in Raleigh, North Carolina, demonstrators gathered outside the state legislative building Tuesday to protest the state’s stay-at-home order, CNN affiliate WRAL reported. Police officers told them they were defying social distancing rules by standing too close together, and asked them to disperse. Most left.
Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states with nearly 2,000 deaths reported while North Carolina has had 135.
Alaska starts rolling back restrictions
In Alaska, state officials have started easing some restrictions. The state has reported nine deaths to coronavirus.
Residents will be allowed to have nonurgent doctors’ appointments again starting Monday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced. Regular checkups, chiropractic procedures and physical therapy will be among the procedures allowed. Two weeks later, on May 4, most elective medical procedures will be allowed under the same provisions, the governor’s order says.
Before going to the doctor’s office, patients will be prescreened to make sure they’re not experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, Health Commissioner Adam Crum said at a news conference.
“We’ve been looking at the curve in Alaska, we’ve been able to flatten that curve because Alaskans are doing a good job,” Crum said.
The state has built up testing assets and is maximizing its use of personal protective equipment, officials said.
Companies report changes in testing
Some commercial lab companies say they’ve seen some recent decline in demand for coronavirus tests following weeks of increases.
Quest Diagnostics said demand declined in recent days, allowing the company to wipe out the remnants of its coronavirus test backlog. Its average turnaround time is now less than two days.
Another company, Eurofins USA, said its labs have excess testing capacity, in part because many hospitals are now testing in-house. A company spokesperson said another contributing factor is some of its labs have been denied entry into some insurance plan networks.
Officials are optimistic but with a caveat
But officials are warning that states shouldn’t yet ease up on social distancing measures because a resurgence of the virus is highly likely once Americans begin getting out of the house again.
Finding the right time to reopen the country is still a work in progress.
With many stay-at-home orders set to expire at the end of the month, governors have started discussions on the first steps toward reopening their economies.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Dave Alsup, Andy Rose and Ben Tinker contributed to this report