NEW YORK (Reuters) – The phased reopening of U.S. business and social life gained traction on Monday with more Americans emerging from coronavirus lockdowns and financial markets rising on promising early results from the first U.S. vaccine trial in humans.
A “We’re Hiring” sign advertising jobs is seen at the entrance of a restaurant, as Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Miami, Florida, U.S., May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello
A COVID-19 vaccine under development by biotech firm Moderna Inc, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers for a safety trial launched in March, the company said.
The findings, offering a glimmer of hope that the vaccine may ultimately prove effective, sent company shares 22% higher on Monday and helped lift the overall stock market about 3% to a 10-week high.
Until a vaccine or cure can be found, lockdowns on commerce and social gatherings have been the chief weapon for fighting the pandemic while nevertheless ravaging the U.S. economy.
At the same time, public health experts caution that easing stay-at-home orders and mandatory business closures is still risky while diagnostic testing remains scant in many places, leaving in doubt how much virus lurks undetected.
Although nearly all 50 states have begun reopening, only 13 had met federal guidelines for safely lifting restrictions as of Sunday, according to a Reuters analysis, raising concerns that infections and deaths could surge anew.
Although some consumers have voiced hesitancy about returning to shopping malls and restaurants just yet, others were clearly ready to do so.
Martin Bermudez, 48, and Jorge Miranda, 61, enjoyed ham and cheese omelets on Monday morning as Miami’s Luis Galindo’s Latin America cafe welcomed diners back for table service after more than two months of only takeout.
“We need to get the economy going again, people are either out of money, or will be very soon,” Bermudez said. “It’s going to be a process, though, and people need to be responsible.”
The pandemic has afflicted the United States more than any other country, with more than 1.5 million known infections and nearly 90,000 deaths.
New York state, epicenter of the U.S. pandemic with 27,400 COVID-19 deaths to date, registered further evidence of improvement as its three-day rolling average of hospitalizations and tally of newly reported fatalities both declined.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the United States – here
In a sign of growing confidence in curbing the contagion, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was looking forward to professional sports teams to begin competing again, though without fans in attendance.
Cuomo said six of the state’s least-densely populated regions would be ready to start reopening on Tuesday, while restrictions are to remain in effect in four others, including the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area.
Across the country in the San Francisco Bay area, health directors in five counties said manufacturing and retail with curbside pickup and warehouse distribution could reopen. Factories were permitted to resume production across the rest of California earlier this month.
In the Midwest, the U.S. auto industry slowly returned to life from a two-month lockdown as the Detroit Three carmakers and their suppliers began restarting assembly lines in a sector that employs nearly 1 million people.
Hundreds of workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s (FCA) truck plant in Warren, Michigan, began lining up before dawn for the early shift. Signs overhead read: “Let’s restart.”
“I’m a little nervous,” said Larry Smith, 53, who works on wheel alignment away from the assembly line. “They made all the precautions (and) they’ve done everything they can to prepare us … I’m trusting in God.”
The auto industry is widely watched as a test case for whether workers across a range of U.S. industries can safely return to factory floors.
Offices and fitness centers in Texas were allowed to reopen on Monday at 25% capacity, and Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, was expected to announce more openings later on Monday.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said on Monday that a spike in cases reported in Texas over the weekend likely stemmed from the reopening of parts of the state’s economy early this month.
Protesters chafing at restrictions have made their voices heard in various parts of the country, sometimes encouraged by President Donald Trump, eager to jumpstart the economy as he seeks re-election in November.
“REOPEN OUR COUNTRY!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Monday and “TRANSITION TO GREATNESS.”
One gym in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania were drawing attention for defying state shutdown orders. But the owners of both said in Facebook posts that they would impose safety measures such as disinfection and limited capacity.
Ian Smith, owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey, described the state’s shutdown order as a “gross violation of constitutional rights” before welcoming back patrons on Monday.
As the club reopened its doors, a crowd of supporters chanted, “USA! USA!” and waved American flags and Trump 2020 banners.
GRAPHIC: Where U.S. coronavirus cases are on the rise – here
Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Grant McCool and Steve Gorman; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller