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22 million jobless claims, masks mandated in New York: Thursday’s coronavirus news

Here’s what you need to know today.

A worker distributes orange juice at a food pantry organized by The Campaign Against Hunger in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, on April 14.
Scott Heins/Getty Images

Another 5.2 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total in just four weeks up to 22 million. And the damage being done to the economy from extended lockdowns is beginning to spark protests in some states.

President Donald Trump has promised to present guidelines to governors in the coming days on how to reopen their states, though he acknowledged that not every state will be able to ease measures at the same time. Many states have made it clear that their lockdowns won’t be ending anytime soon.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York’s coronavirus shutdown would continue until at least May 15. The day before, he mandated that New Yorkers must now wear face coverings anytime they’re in public and might not be able to consistently stay six feet away from people.

Meanwhile, several countries in Europe have loosened their lockdown restrictions. Germany is the latest to phase in a reopening for May, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the country’s success was delicate and not guaranteed. “We are walking on thin ice,” she said.

Here’s what you need to know today.

More than 22 million US jobless claims

The unfolding economic catastrophe is now approaching the scale of the Great Depression.

Last week’s number (5.2 million initial claims) was a slight improvement on the previous week’s 6.6 million figure, but it’s clear the United States is facing a crisis that it has not seen in a generation. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, Congress’s stimulus package did expand categories of unemployment, meaning more people are eligible to file for unemployment under these expanded categories. But even so, the rapidity of this economic collapse is startling.

And the question of trying to “reopen” the economy is becoming much more fraught. Protests have broken out in Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio against those states’ coronavirus restrictions, with many in attendance violating social distancing rules to make their points.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to release a blueprint for reopening states as soon as Thursday. “We’ll be opening up some states much sooner than others,” he said Wednesday at his evening press conference. “We think some of the states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1.”

While some states have not been hit as hard by the coronavirus, and others, like Washington, look as if they’ve successfully flattened the curve, governors are being cautious about when to begin easing restrictions, and in some cases, planning to come up with regional strategies.

Any economic recovery will depend on whether coronavirus is under control in the US, which has now confirmed more than 641,000 coronavirus cases.

New Yorkers must wear face masks in public now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued a new executive order that requires wearing face coverings in public. It will go into effect on Friday. The governor said that masks, bandanas, or scarves should be worn on public transit and anytime people are at risk of coming within less than six feet of each other. Cuomo said the rule could be enforced with civil penalties. (Cuomo, on Thursday, also extended New York’s coronavirus restrictions until at least May 15.)

“Stopping the spread is everything,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing in Albany on Wednesday. “How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had already urged city residents to wear face coverings in public, and other states have taken similar steps. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has required the use of face coverings in stores and on transit. Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland has issued similar guidelines. Earlier this month, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis gave a press conference encouraging the public to wear cloth masks, and modeled one himself.

All officials are clear on one thing, though: Medical-grade masks need to be saved for the health care and essential workers on the frontlines. If you need a mask and don’t know where to get one, Vox’s Alanna Okun has a great explainer on how to make your own.

Germany is the latest EU country to start easing restrictions

Germany is slowly loosening up its lockdown coronavirus lockdown restrictions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. The country is taking a gradual approach. Some of its shops will begin to open next week, though people must still keep their distance and Merkel is encouraging people to wear masks in public. The country also plans to reopen some schools May 4, though it will likely include mitigation strategies like smaller class sizes.

Large gatherings are still off-limits, and big events and religious services are banned until the end of August. Bars and restaurants remain closed, though the government will reevaluate that at the end of the month, reports the Financial Times.

Merkel was careful to avoid declaring victory, describing Germany’s situation as a “fragile intermediate success” because of its aggressive measures. Germany has managed the coronavirus better than some of its European neighbors, which is also credited to the country’s capacity to conduct about 50,000 tests per day. Germany has confirmed more than 135,000 cases, and recorded less than 4,000 deaths as of April 16.

Merkel also made very clear that while the situation was on the upswing, that could change abruptly, and that Germany had to remain vigilant. “But at the same time we’ve learnt that without restrictions, the speed of infection increases very quickly,” Merkel said. “For that reason, we must do everything we can to safeguard the successes of the last few weeks.”

And some good news

“I’ll take ‘What You’ll Be Reading This Summer’ for $1,000, please.”

Alex Trebek, the longtime Jeopardy host who is currently fighting stage-4 pancreatic cancer and who may be the one man in America most everyone still likes, is set to release his memoir in July. The Answer Is… : Reflections on My Life is coming out on July 21, from Simon & Schuster.