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More than half the country goes into 1st weekend with loosened coronavirus restrictions

NUTLEY, NJ - FEBRUARY 28: A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation on February 28, 2020 in Nutley, New Jersey. The facility develops novel therapies for some of the worlds most difficult diseases. At least 53 countries have reported cases of infection. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

(CNN) — For the first time in weeks, residents in some states across the country can dabble in semblances of some weekend routines after governors began easing restrictions put in place to combat the novel coronavirus.

That might mean going to a movie in Georgia, working out with a personal trainer in Colorado or dropping by a dispensary in Nevada — with restrictions for spacing and sanitation.

More than 30 states have begun easing social distancing restrictions — ranging from simply opening state parks to allowing some businesses to restart.

Some of those states have let stay-at-home orders expire, with caveats restricting what businesses can open and how. One such state, Georgia, still requires the elderly to stay home until June 12. Other states and counties will ease restrictions starting Monday.

Gyms and fitness centers will reopen in Arkansas on May 4, while hair salons will follow May 6. In Northern California’s Yuba and Sutter counties, restaurants, tattoo parlors and shopping malls will be allowed to open Monday, which will also be the first workday for many offices in Colorado, with operations limited to 50% capacity.

In Montana, bars and breweries will also be allowed to provide some in-establishment services starting Monday. According to current plans, more than 40 states will have eased restrictions by May 10.

The changes come even as experts warn that lifting measures now could be deadly.

“You’re making a big mistake. It’s going to cost lives,” Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and disaster preparedness specialist at Columbia University Medical Center, told CNN Friday.

In a report, Redlener and Joseph Fair, a senior fellow in pandemic policy at Texas A&M University, said no city or state should begin to reduce restrictions until coronavirus infections have been steadily decreasing for 10 days to two weeks, and not until enough tests are available to track just how many people really are infected.

“We implore you to do everything in your power to make sure we have the testing and contact tracing we need to move forward safely. Until we get there, it is inappropriate and dangerous to reopen local businesses,” Redlener wrote in a letter accompanying the report.

But the country continues to lag behind in testing and months since the beginning of the outbreak is still unable to perform the millions of tests that economists and public heath experts said last month will be required before measures can be safely lifted.

This is where all 50 states stand on reopening

More shopping in Georgia, and open parks in New Jersey

In Georgia, retail stores were allowed to reopen Friday, with distancing and sanitation caveats. In the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, shoppers ventured out to the Avalon outdoor mall, where about 20 of roughly 100 stores reopened.

While most of the open shops offered only curbside pickup or appointment shopping, Altar’d State, a women’s clothing store, allowed walk-in guests, though only 10 people inside at a time, including employees. Associates wore gloves and regularly sanitized fitting rooms.

Every article of clothing that a customer tried on but didn’t purchase was placed into a high-temperature steaming machine before being returned to racks.

Outside, retired nurse Kate Martin waited her turn to enter the store. She said she’d been eager to get out of her house for some fresh air — but she still had reservations about coming.

“I still think it might be a little too soon to come back out and be this close together. So, we’ll see,” she said. “Let’s hope the outcome is good.”

Mall workers distributed masks to guests, though not every guest chose to wear them.

Martin wore a mask. She hoped others would wear them, too.

“You might not get as sick, but (older people) will, and they will get it from you. Do it for your grandmother,” she said.

A week earlier, Georgia allowed bowling alleys, gyms and personal-service stores such as nail salons and barber shops to reopen, with similar distancing and sanitation requirements. Restaurants were permitted to open Monday.

In New Jersey, general stay-at-home rules still are in place — but state parks and golf courses were allowed to reopen starting Saturday so people can “get some fresh air,” as Gov. Phil Murphy has said.

Linda Hoffman seized the opportunity Saturday, taking her dog for a walk in Jakes Branch County Park in Beachwood, the Asbury Park Press reported

“I felt like I was let out of prison today,” Hoffman told the newspaper. “If they have to do this slowly, I’m OK with that. But we need to move forward.”

Your coronavirus questions, answered

People in Washington were urged to stay away from the National Mall on Saturday for a flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, but they came anyway, according to social media posts showing large crowds.

The crowds appeared to be in greater number on the mall between the US Capitol and Washington Monument. CNN reporters said most people practiced social distancing and many wore masks, but the sidewalks leading to the mall were crowded, with limited ability to socially distance.

The precision flying teams also flew over Baltimore and Atlanta to honor essential workers.

People still are going to a closed California beach

In California, some people Saturday were defying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close Orange County beaches.

Beaches in that county were closed after officials decided too many people packed some shores last weekend.

But Saturday, dozens of people were on the shores of Huntington Beach — some surfing, some walking and some sitting or lying in the sand, generally spread out from each other.

“It felt a little targeted … on Orange County specifically because of what happened last weekend” one surfer, Greg Frank, told CNN at the beach Saturday.

He said he believed the beach last week was packed with people from counties that had tougher restrictions at the time — and that therefore Orange County was now paying an unfair price for hosting those visitors.

A CNN crew there didn’t immediately see police issue citations. Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said Friday that police would gently enforce the closure.

“We’re going to be going out and educating people, asking for voluntary compliance. And then if we have to, we’ll be removing people from the beach,” Handy said.

On Friday, up to 3,000 people gathered in Huntington Beach to protest the closure.

Protests also were held Friday well to the north — in California’s capital, Sacramento — over Newsom’s larger stay-at-home order for the state. More than 30 people were arrested Friday during that demonstration, CNN affiliate KCRA reported.

More than 1,000 people had gathered in the Sacramento protest, some waving American flags and signs against the order.

“This disease doesn’t know if you’re a protester, a Democrat, a Republican,” the governor said Friday. “Protect yourself, protect your family, your kids, your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors.”

Newsom said the state is “days, not weeks” away from beginning to lift restrictions.

CDC: Summer will be critical in fight against virus

How the country fares in the next few months will be “critical” in the fight against coronavirus and how it will evolve in the fall, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

“The more we intensify the testing and expand the public health capacity and assure that our hospital capacity and material to support the hospitals is adequate or has excess, the better we’re going to be in the fall,” Schuchat said in an interview with JAMA Network.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease doctor, this week said he believes a second round of the virus is “inevitable” and how deadly that round is will be determined by how prepared the United States is.

“If by that time we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well,” he said. “If we don’t do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter.”

Fauci has also warned that lifting measures prematurely could lead to a rebound of the virus that could put the US in the “same boat that we were a few weeks ago.”

FDA approves remdesivir

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the experimental drug remdesivir as treatment for hospitalized patients with severe coronavirus, the agency said Friday.

This is the first authorized therapy for the virus in the country, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said.

“This is an important clinical advance that showed a statistically significant reduction in time to recovery for patients with Covid-19 and is the first authorized therapy for Covid-19.” Hahn said.

The drug was approved just days after researchers said it might help patients recover more quickly from the infection.

In an emergency-use authorization Friday, the agency said the benefits of using the drug outweighed the risks.

Here’s what else happened this week:

• A model often cited by the White House upped its predictions for the US death toll by August, partially because of measures lifted prematurely.

• States across the US have called for more antibody tests to be done, while others have begun hiring contact tracers to get a glimpse into how widespread the virus has been.

• The CDC said international travel and lack of testing fueled spread of the virus in the early days of US outbreak.

• Experts say the virus is likely to keep spreading for up to two more years — until 60% to 70% of the population has been infected.