The U.S. economy, frozen by COVID-19 shutdowns, is in the process of thawing out. All 50 states have at least partially eased tight restrictions on businesses, with a mix of policies letting restaurants or stores welcome customers.
Just after midnight Wednesday, Connecticut became the final state to let business serve customers more directly than they have in weeks. The state is now allowing outdoor seating at restaurants, and non-essential retail stores and malls can also reopen.
The national shutdown began two months ago; since then, 36.5 million people have filed for unemployment, as state and local leaders weigh how to minimize the economic damage while also protecting lives.
Across the U.S., some cities and counties are keeping tight restrictions in place, with officials citing persistent levels of hospitalizations and/or new cases.
Nonessential businesses in Washington, D.C., remain closed, and could remain so through June 8, depending on how coronavirus cases develop in the district. Puerto Rico allowed a limited number of businesses to reopen earlier this month, although a curfew will remain in effect through at least May 25.
Many U.S. states and cities enacted their shutdowns just ahead of St. Patrick's Day, in hopes of avoiding a mass transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Since then, school years have been derailed and businesses that could continue through remote work or takeout service have done so. But many broad restrictions have now been dropped ahead of Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer vacation and outdoor season.
Even as thousands of businesses are now allowed to reopen, more than a dozen states remain under stay-at-home orders. And in many areas, arguments are playing out over when it's safe to reopen gyms, movie theaters and hair salons.
In the weeks since Georgia became the first U.S. state to reopen a wide swath of its economy on April 24, public health experts have warned that in many cases, states are easing restrictions despite not meeting all of the criteria to do so.
The situation creates a quandary for many residents who must decide the level of exposure they're comfortable with — either to return to the workplace or to visit other businesses. In some cases, protesters who are impatient with the shutdown have thronged capitol buildings in Michigan, Wisconsin and other states.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Five states – New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and California – have each reported more coronavirus cases than Hubei province, China, the original epicenter of the outbreak.