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Economic strain drives more states to lift pandemic restrictions

As May dawns, more of the country is lifting restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. With more than 30 million people filing for unemployment in the past six weeks, some states are desperate to open businesses and have people return to work. But the national death toll from the virus has now passed 64,000, and some essential workers fear for their safety. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have made it to the first day of May, and more of the country has been opening for business to one degree or another.

    But worries persist, with the pandemic death toll now passing 64,000.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    On this May Day, or International Workers Day, more American workers were back on the job, like those at this Houston, Texas shop, serving masked patrons stepping up on six-feet-spacing markers, all on their morning coffee run.

    But it came just a day after Texas recorded more than 50 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, the most yet, and that left some officials uncomfortable with this push to reopen.

  • Lina Hidalgo:

    Just because you can open doesn't mean you should.

  • William Brangham:

    In all, at least 17 states across the U.S. are now moving to reopen their economies, and even more have restrictions set to expire soon.

    Last night, though, Michigan's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer reissued her stay-at-home order, after a day when protesters, many of them armed, invaded the state capitol, and Republican lawmakers refused to extend the lockdown another 28 days.

    Today, President Trump, called the protesters very good people and urged Whitmer to make a deal with them.

    The governor responded this afternoon.

  • Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

    Yesterday's scene at the Capitol was disturbing, to be quite honest. Swastikas, and Confederate flags, nooses and automatic rifles do not represent who we are as Michiganders.

  • William Brangham:

    More protests demanding an end to restrictions broke out today in California. Large crowds gathered in the Los Angeles area, where scuffles broke out, and outside the state capitol in Sacramento, where police made arrests.

    Also today, Mississippi's Republican Governor Tate Reeves said he was not reopening business as planned because of a spike in cases.

  • Governor Tate Reeves:

    I was ready to change our order today, but needed to take the latest health information into account. This was a large enough change to make me take a step back and want to look at the board, to reexamine things.

  • William Brangham:

    All of this comes all of this as state economies are under extraordinary strain, with more than 30 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in just six weeks.

    For some of the essential workers who've had to stay on the job, the balance between safety and work has reached a breaking point. Employees at corporate giants like Amazon, Target and FedEx staged one-day walkouts today over what they say are unsafe working conditions during the pandemic.

    At the White House this afternoon, President Trump and his top advisers announced, the Food and Drug Administration is allowing emergency use of the experimental drug remdesivir, after an initial study showed it cuts recuperation time in COVID-19 patients.

    The drug's manufacturer, Gilead, will donate 1.5 million vials.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I spoke with Dr. Hahn and Dr. Fauci. I spoke with Deborah about it. And it's really a very promising situation.

  • William Brangham:

    Workers around the world united, at a distance, for May Day as well.

    In Greece, supporters of the Communist Party there rallied for workers' rights, carefully lined up six feet apart. In China, some used their holiday to visit Beijing's iconic Forbidden City, which opened its gates for the first time in months.

    Visitor Pan Jinghua said it was a needed pilgrimage in a very difficult year.

  • Pan Jinghua (through translator):

    I have come here because I think that 2020 has been a really tough year so far, and the Forbidden City holds a kind of sacred place in my eyes.

    I hope that by coming here to visit, I can just start a beautiful day.

  • William Brangham:

    Hopes of renewal, as the world awaits a reopening.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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