The great coronavirus lockdown is beginning to unwind in some parts of the United States, with several governors announcing an easing of restrictions in their states in the coming days and weeks. Whether this will be safe — or whether Americans will even want to go back to gyms and restaurants yet — is, alarmingly, still an open question.
That hasn’t stopped governors in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and other states from loosening measures, some even before the end of the month. But in both the US and abroad, major public events are being cleared from the calendar as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases tops 2.5 million worldwide.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio canceled the city’s Pride March and Puerto Rican Day parades scheduled for June; on Tuesday, he indicated July 4th fireworks were also unlikely. The German state of Bavaria has canceled Oktoberfest, and Spain has canceled the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The suspension of these mass events makes sense amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, but it’s a reminder that normality is not returning anytime soon.
President Donald Trump has been pushing hard for the country to reopen, but he’s suddenly decided that in one very specific area things should be shut down even further: immigration. He announced a vague declaration via tweet Monday night that he was temporarily suspending immigration to the United States. What that actually means is still unclear, though, as the coronavirus pandemic has already de facto halted immigration to the US.
Here’s what you need to know today.
Some US states look to reopen
As of April 21, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States has exceeded 788,000, and the death toll sits at more than 42,000. The crisis is not over, but some states are still beginning to ease lockdown measures in an attempt to restart their economies.
President Trump’s federal social distancing guidelines are in effect until the end of April, but some states are aiming for more accelerated timelines. In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has said gyms, hair and nail salons, and bowling alleys can open by Friday if they follow social distancing rules, screen workers for fevers, and enforce mask-wearing. Starting next Monday, April 27, movie theaters will be allowed to reopen, and restaurants in the state will be allowed to resume limited dine-in service. Bars and nightclubs, however, will remain closed.
Kemp, a Trump ally, imposed lockdown restrictions in early April, a lot later than other states (he claimed he had just learned about asymptomatic transmission), and many mayors and public health officials in the state say Georgia’s move to end the lockdown is far too premature.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms said she hadn’t been consulted about Kemp’s decision ahead of time. “But as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical,” she said.
Some business owners in Georgia are skeptical, too. “I’d rather stay closed an extra week and wipe this thing out than to open prematurely, have a second wave and have to shut down again,” Patrick Godley, a restaurant owner in Savannah, Georgia, told the AP.
Georgia isn’t the only state where measures are being lifted. In Florida, which had recorded 839 coronavirus-related deaths as of Tuesday morning, Republican Gov. Rick DeSantis reopened some beaches. In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster reopened some stores that had previously been deemed nonessential, like book stores and flea markets; public boat ramps will also start to reopen, along with some beaches, according to the AP. In Tennessee and Ohio (both of which are led by Republican governors, though Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine took early action to close schools and businesses), businesses are expected to be allowed open on May 1, after the 30-day federal social distancing guidelines lapse.
Last week, the administration put out a plan for a phased reopening of the economy that lays out specific benchmarks states need to meet before moving through the different phases. These include seeing a 14-day decline in reports of Covid-like illnesses and a “downward trajectory” of positive tests, and having robust testing in place. It’s not clear that all of these states have met those benchmarks; in South Carolina, for example, Linda Bell, the state’s top epidemiologist, said there was a “leveling off” of cases but no sure decline, according to the AP.
So this will be something of a test — one, as to whether coronavirus cases will resurge if these states move too swiftly to reopen, and two, whether people will feel safe enough to return to stores and beaches. Right now, public opinion doesn’t seem to suggest many Americans feel secure: A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, conducted April 14-19, found that only 10 percent of Americans polled believed gatherings of 10 or more would be safe by the end of April; 21 percent said the end of May, 20 percent said June, and 19 percent said later in the summer.
Trump finds an immigration angle (of course)
States are reopening, but Trump wants more shutdowns — on immigration, at least. Trump decided to drop a 10 pm tweet on Monday announcing that he would be signing an executive order temporarily suspending all immigration to the United States.
That’s it. No further details included.
In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
As of time of writing, this executive order is evidently still being drafted, so it’s still not totally clear how this will work and what the legal justification will be. The order is allegedly intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect jobs for American workers. Per the Washington Post:
For Trump’s executive order to work, it would have to direct the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to immediately stop the issuance of immigration visas. Such a move appears to have no modern precedent and would potentially leave the fiancees, children and other close relatives of U.S. citizens in limbo.
Somehow, this announcement is both an extraordinary move and an extraordinary distraction from the actual crisis that’s happening in the US around the coronavirus. Even before Trump’s tweet, as the New York Times points out, the regular channels of immigration had largely been closed off because of the pandemic. The US has imposed widespread travel restrictions, canceled routine visa and immigration appointments worldwide, and implemented a policy denying entry to asylum-seekers.
Trump’s order would presumably go even further, barring green cards and work visas for a still-unspecified period of time. Though, again, the administration’s plans are still unclear.
There is not much to back up the idea that stopping legal immigration is going to somehow curb the threat of the coronavirus or protect American workers.
The United States — not some other country — is now the world’s hot spot for coronavirus cases, with nearly 800,000 of the world’s 2.5 million confirmed cases.
As for protecting Americans jobs, the country’s economic woes largely exist because businesses are shut down and people are staying home, not because immigrants are taking jobs from US citizens.
On top of that, prior to this announcement, the Trump administration actually made it easier for some immigrants to enter because they’re basically helping keep the economy afloat right now. Per Politico:
Specifically, the U.S. eased requirements for immigrants to get certain jobs, such as farmworkers, landscapers and crab pickers, aware that certain industries, including those that fill grocery store shelves, could be hurt during the pandemic if they couldn’t hire foreign employees. It has also begun easing the process for companies looking to hire foreign workers, altering some paperwork requirements, including allowing electronic signatures and waiving the physical inspection of documents.
As Vox’s Nicole Narea writes, “if the executive order does not exempt workers in essential fields, it could have a devastating effect on health care and agriculture.” As Narea explains, hospitals are facing staff shortages because of the virus’s toll on health care workers, and farmers have worried about potential labor shortages among agricultural workers that could threaten the food supply.
Germany says “nein” to Oktoberfest (and a bunch of other countries canceled stuff, too)
Mass gatherings have largely been canceled in the age of the coronavirus. And even as countries slowly, slowly begin to ease restrictions, meeting in very large groups remains verboten.
New York City’s Pride March, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, was officially canceled on Monday. Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, which is supposed to start in mid-September, was also nixed. The event usually draws in about 6 million visitors, according to Reuters. And it usually brings the city more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion).
“A decision that saddens us all: It affects me, deeply and personally. A festival for millions, which stands for Munich, for the joy of life, for Bavaria, cannot take place,” said Clemens Baumgärtner, the head of Oktoberfest, according to USA Today.
Oktoberfest has been canceled because of pandemics before, most notably cholera in 1854, according to NPR. But the last time it was officially canceled was during World War II.
Spain’s San Fermin festival in early July has also been canceled, and along with it the legendary running of the bulls (though maybe that’s not such a bad thing?). And an expert in Japan said this week that even a Tokyo Olympics in 2021 might not be feasible.
All of these cancellations are a good reminder that even as countries begin to reopen their economies, life will still be far from “normal” for the foreseeable future.