Governors of about 20 US states spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may start reopening their economies by President Donald Trump's May 1 target date, a top US health official said on Wednesday, as fresh data illustrated the economic and human toll brought by the crisis.
Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency was prepared to assist those states in the process of lifting restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.
"There are a number of states - 19, 20 states - that really have had limited impact from it. So I think we will see some states that are - the governors feel that they're ready - we're poised to assist them with that reopening," Redfield said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."
States and local governments have issued "stay-at-home" or "shelter-in-place" orders affecting about 94% of Americans to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
The restrictions have battered with US economy, with mandatory business closures aimed at curbing the pathogen's spread leaving millions of Americans unemployed.
With evidence that the outbreak is slowing in hard-hit states like New York, political leaders have engaged in an acrimonious debate over when to try to reopen the economy without paving the way for adeadly second wave of infections.
Fresh government data released on Wednesday gave another glimpse at the economic damage.
Retail sales dropped by 8.7% in March, the government reported, the biggest decline since tracking began in 1992.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity.
In addition, output at US factories declined by the most since 1946 as the pandemic fractured supply chains.
Economists believe the economy entered recession in March.
"The economy is almost in free fall," said Sung Won Sohn, a business economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
The US death toll - already the world's highest in the world - has surged relentlessly. The number of US deaths stood at 28,700 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 610,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday, the number of US deaths rose to a single-day high.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, the state considered the US epicenter of the pandemic, said 752 died there in the previous day - down slightly from the previous day but still high - even as hospitalizations declined.
"We need to build a bridge toward a reopening of the economy," Cuomo told a news briefing. "We are going to a different place - a new normal."
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