Lifting restrictions risky
Health expert points to Texas’ virus surge as ‘a warning shot’
NEW YORK — On a weekend when many pandemic-weary people emerged from weeks of lockdown, leaders in the U.S. and Europe weighed the risks and rewards of lifting COVID-19 restrictions knowing a vaccine could take years to develop.
In separate stark warnings, two major European leaders told their citizens that the world needs to adapt to living with the coronavirus and cannot wait to be saved by a vaccine.
“We are confronting this risk, and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, acceding to a push by regional leaders to allow restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open Monday, weeks ahead of an earlier timetable.
The warnings from Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came as governments worldwide and many U.S. states struggled with restarting economies blindsided by the pandemic.
With 36 million newly unemployed in the U.S. alone, economic pressures are building even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks setting off new waves of infections and deaths. In the U.S., images of crowded bars, beaches and boardwalks suggested some weren’t heeding warnings to safely enjoy reopened spaces while limiting the risks of spreading infection.
Johnson, who was hospitalized last month with COVID-19, speculated Sunday that a vaccine may not be developed at all, despite the huge global effort to produce one. Health experts say the world could be months, if not years,
away from having a vaccine available to everyone.
“There remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition,” Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
President Donald Trump promised Americans a speedy return to normalcy that sounded far more optimistic than most experts say is realistic.
“We’re looking at vaccines, we’re looking at cures and we are very, very far down the line,” he said while calling into a charity golf tournament broadcast Sunday broadcast on NBC. “I think that’s not going to be in the very distant future. But even before that, I think we’ll be back to normal.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 4.7 million people and killed more than 314,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say under counts the true toll of the pandemic. The U.S. has reported nearly 90,000 dead, and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe illness and lead to death.
Some experts noted recent infection surges in Texas, including a 1,800-case jump Saturday, with Amarillo identified as a growing hot spot. Texas officials said increased testing was playing a big role — the more you look for something, the more you find it. Many are watching hospitalizations and death rates in the weeks ahead to see what the new Texas numbers really mean.
But Texas was one of the earliest states to allow stores and restaurants to reopen, and some experts worry it is a sign of the kind of outbreak reignition that might occur when social distancing and other prevention measures are loosened or ignored.
Dr. Michael Saag at the University of Alabama at Birmingham called Texas “a warning shot” for states to closely watch any surges in cases and have plans to swiftly take steps to stop them.
“No one knows for sure exactly the right way forward, and what I think we’re witnessing is a giant national experiment,” said Saag, an infectious diseases researcher.
Many states have lifted stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, allowing some types of businesses to reopen.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, told CNN on Sunday that he was concerned to see images of a crowded bar in Columbus on the first day that outdoor dining establishments were allowed to reopen.
“We made the decision to start opening up Ohio, and about 90% of our economy is back open, because we thought it was a huge risk not to open,” he said. “But we also know it’s a huge risk in opening.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suggested early predictions were overblown, as he attempts to lure residents back to public life and help rebuild the state’s battered economy.
On Monday, Florida restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, as can retail shops, museums and libraries. Gyms can also begin reopening.
Paula Walborsky, a 74-year-old retired attorney in Tallahassee, has resisted the temptation to get her hair done and turned down dinner invitations from close friends.
But when one of her city’s public swimming pools reopened by appointment, she decided to test the waters. Just a handful of other swimmers shared the water as she swam laps and did water aerobics.
“I was so excited to be back in the water, and it just felt wonderful,” Walborsky said.