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U.S., global officials weigh risks of easing COVID-19 restrictions

Editor's Note: In the setup tape for this segment, we mistakenly identified Shinzo Abe as Japan's president. He is in fact the country's prime minister. We apologize for the error.

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 120,000 people worldwide, including 23,000 in the U.S. Although officials in some countries, including the U.S., are talking about restarting economic and social activity, health experts warn that doing so without sufficient preparation -- and widespread testing for the virus -- could prompt another wave of infections. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The coronavirus pandemic is showing more signs of leveling off in parts of the world. And there is more talk tonight about easing restrictions.

    That comes as the global death toll nears 120,000, including some 23,000 in the United States.

    In New York state alone, deaths topped 10,000 today, but officials pointed to potentially positive trend lines.

    We begin with this report from Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the national death toll ticks higher, at the epicenter in New York, a slowdown in the number of hospitalizations.

    Governor Andrew Cuomo said today he hopes to reopen the state as soon as possible, and is now developing a strategy to do so carefully, in coordination with neighboring states.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    If we do something stupid, you will see those numbers go right back up tomorrow, period. The worst can be over, and it is over, unless we do something reckless.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In New York City, the Health Department warned of a looming shortage of test swabs, and recommended, to conserve supply, that only hospitalized patients be tested, in Massachusetts, a similar testing shortage. Governor Charlie Baker:

  • Governor Charlie Baker:

    If you were to say to any of us up here, are we doing enough testing, we would say no. And if you talk to most other states, they would say the same thing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Experts say wider testing is a key factor in determining when and how states can begin lifting social distancing directives.

    Governors and local leaders are charged with public health and safety. But, today, the president tweeted that he will decide when to reopen the U.S. economy, and he expects to make that decision shortly.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, raised yesterday a possible rolling reentry for the U.S. economy, meaning some regions could reopen as early as May.

    But it was this response that caught President Trump's attention:

  • Anthony Fauci:

    Obviously, you could logically say that, if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The president retweeted a reference to those remarks with the hashtag #FireFauci. The White House today denied the president is doing so, saying in a statement — quote — "Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted adviser to President Trump."

    But the virus continues to spread across the U.S., leaving a devastating wake in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. According to an Associated Press analysis, deaths in these centers rose sharply, from 450 to more than 3,300 in just the last 10 days.

    Meanwhile, the number of COVID cases in the U.S. military has exceeded 4,500, a 50 percent increase in just five days. At least 15 of those patients have died. One was a sailor with the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the first death among some 600 crew members infected aboard the aircraft carrier.

    The ship's commander, Captain Brett Crozier, was removed after sounding the alarm about the outbreak. He later tested positive as well.

    And the pandemic has forced the Supreme Court to go remote, announcing today it will hold May arguments via teleconference.

    Around the world, countries weigh the risk of getting back to business, with the threat of fueling a second wave of infections. The head of the World Health Organization urged countries to proceed with caution.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:

    While COVID-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up. That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Spain began easing restrictions today. And workers in some nonessential industries, like construction and manufacturing, were back on the job.

    And, in Italy, once the European epicenter, new COVID-19 cases have fallen to a three-week low. But infections continue to surge in Japan, even as a month-long lockdown in Tokyo and six other prefectures unfolds. Japanese President Shinzo Abe has been criticized for doing too little too late.

    South Korean officials, citing the decline in COVID cases since March, are in talks to reopen parts of the country. But that effort is tempered by growing fears of a new wave of infections, one that could push the possibility of our new normal even further away.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wall Street's hopes that the pandemic is turning a corner gave way to new fear today about expected damage to corporate earnings.

    The Dow Jones industrial average lost 328 points to close at 23390. The Nasdaq rose nearly 39 points, while the S&P 500 gave up 28.

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