More US states take steps to reopen amid optimism over potential vaccine

By Lucia Leal

Washington, May 18 (efe-epa).- The United States has taken further steps toward an economic reopening even as promising early results from a Covid-19 vaccine trial provided more cause for optimism.

Three states that have been cautious about ending lockdowns – Michigan, Massachusetts and Minnesota – on Monday began a gradual easing of stay-at-home measures implemented to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Additional restrictions also were lifted in 12 other states – including Texas and Florida, where gyms have been allowed to reopen.

These developments mean only one US state (Connecticut) and one territory (the District of Columbia, which is the US capital) have not relaxed their confinement orders at all, although the former is to take steps to reopen on May 20.

In Michigan, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise, a state-wide stay-at-home order will remain in place until May 28. But on Monday the so-called Detroit Three automakers – General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler – began restarting plants that had been shut down since late March, initially at 25 percent capacity.

Minnesota, whose daily rise in coronavirus infections has stabilized, has lifted its stay-at-home order and allowed shopping malls to reopen at 50 percent capacity; Massachusetts, a state in which the number of new daily cases has started to trend downward, has begun its economic reopening by allowing construction and manufacturing activities to resume.

Half of Yellowstone National Park also was reopened to the public on Monday thanks to an easing of restrictions in Wyoming.

Restaurants in Florida are now being allowed to operate at 50 percent of their capacity, while in South Carolina swimming pools have reopened and in Arkansas movie theaters, bowling alleys, museums and casinos are back in business.

It remains unclear to what point the economic re-openings initiated in late April have contributed to the spread of the disease. But several experts are concerned about states like Texas, which on Saturday registered a record daily number of infections (1,801).

Some state leaders, however, say the increase in confirmed cases there could also be the result of increased testing for the virus, which causes mild symptoms in most people.

The United States currently is conducting around 330,000 Covid-19 tests per day, well short of the 900,000 daily tests that the Harvard Global Health Institute says are needed to begin a safe reopening of the country.

Even as an easing of coronavirus-triggered lockdowns offers hope for an economy that has shed around 36.5 million jobs in two months, President Donald Trump, financial markets and millions of Americans were cheered by reports Monday that Moderna, a US biotech company, has achieved encouraging results from its efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

That Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, one of eight globally that is conducting an early-stage human trial, said its vaccine candidate produced anti-Covid-19 antibodies at roughly the same level as patients who have recovered from the disease.

“These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection starting with a dose as low as 25” micrograms, Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks, said in a statement.

The hopeful news sent US stocks up sharply, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a leading Wall Street blue-chip indicator, closing up 3.85 percent.

Trump, for his part, hailed the news about the vaccine trial in remarks at the White House.

“It’s incredible what they can do, and I’ve seen results and the results are staggeringly good. So I’m very happy and the market’s up very big,” the president said.

Moderna’s announcement comes less than a week after the US government’s top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, cautioned that there is no guarantee that a vaccine assessed in clinical trials will be effective against Covid-19. EFE-EPA


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