President Donald Trump’s push to reopen state economies would have Americans self-policing their behavior even as projections suggested that shopping, eating out and getting post-quarantine haircuts could lead to many more deaths.

Two recent estimates, one by Trump, have predicted that the toll from the outbreak will reach or surpass 100,000 deaths. Despite the grim forecasts, states continued to move toward resuming commerce, impelled by the president as well as business people and citizens weary of lockdowns without an end game.

The White House has released loose guidelines for a return to economic life that put the onus of decision-making on governors. Florida, Georgia and Texas, whose leaders have bridled at restraints, saw residents stirring at restaurants and shops. The governors of Ohio, Arizona, Rhode Island and California announced more cautious plans to slowly open businesses in a limited fashion to avoid human contact.

The strength of the economy was once Trump’s top argument for re-election. But as the outbreak and fallout of the measures to contain it have crushed businesses and workers, Trump has vacillated between calling for caution and pushing for reopenings. Epidemiologists warn that the return to commerce could result in more infections, and economists say a second shutdown if cases explode would do even worse damage than the first.

“The public is very confused,” said Harry Heiman, a clinical medicine professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “There’s been a void at the national level, and in many states, like Georgia, of leadership that is able to provide a clear, consistent message about what’s going on and about the plan is going forward.”

Long Fuse
On Sunday, Trump urged states to reopen, but also said that the coronavirus could kill as many as 100,000 people, up from a previous projection of about 60,000. Evidence suggests that after weeks of social distancing and home isolation, the U.S. has flattened the curve, with Covid-19 deaths stabilizing at about 2,000 a day. Already, almost 69,000 Americans have died.

“We have to get it back open safely, but as quickly as possible,” Trump said in a virtual town hall on Fox News.

Because of the time it takes to test patients and for severe cases to develop, outcomes in states that are aggressively reopening may not be known for weeks, said Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive officer of the de Beaumont Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland, which works for public health.

“I don’t think we know yet what’s coming,” said Castrucci, an epidemiologist who has led state health departments. “Don’t go back into a burning building.”

While much of America has been little touched by the virus, there are clear indications the disease remains potent. As of Sunday, nearly 400 workers at a meatpacking plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, tested positive. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has aimed to limit the infection’s spread even as workers fall ill. And on April 27 -- the day after Tennessee saw its biggest one-day spike in new diagnoses -- the state opened restaurants for some dine-in business.

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