HOUSTON — As families marked Mother’s Day in a time of social distancing and isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders balanced optimism they could loosen lockdowns that have left millions unemployed against the threat of a second wave of infections.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.
“I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint,” said Mnuchin, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”
But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said the moves by states to re-open businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.
Many families faced their first Mother’s Day without loved ones lost in the pandemic. Others sent good wishes from a safe distance or through phone and video calls.
The virus has caused particular suffering for the elderly, with more than 26,000 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to an Associated Press tally.
At a senior center in Smyrna, Georgia, 73-year-old Mary Washington spoke to her daughter Courtney Crosby and grandchild Sydney Crosby through a window.
In Grafton, West Virginia, where the tradition of Mother’s Day began 112 years ago, the brick building now known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine held its first online-only audience. Anna Jarvis first held a memorial service for her mother and all mothers on the second Sunday of May in 1908.
“Sheltered safely at home with the family together would be viewed by Anna Jarvis as exactly the way she wanted Mother’s Day to be observed,” said Marvin Gelhausen, chairman of the shrine’s board of trustees, in an address on YouTube.
Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son’s daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
“I am so blessed as many mothers today are,” she said.
Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the deadliest hot spot for the virus in the U.S., said he looked forward to getting back to normal. “We’re going to have fun, and then you can spend more time with me. I know I am your favorite,” he said in a playful dig at his siblings.
He also announced two policy reversals a day after an Associated Press report in which residents’ relatives, watchdog groups and politicians from both parties alleged he was not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. Nursing home staff in New York will now have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week and facilities will no longer be required to take in hospital patients who were infected.
The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths, the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and more than 280,000 have died, over half of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins.
In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made. The country has recorded the most virus deaths in Europe at over 31,900.
Those in the construction or manufacturing industries or other jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, he said. Johnson, who has taken a tougher line after falling ill himself with what he called “this devilish illness,” set a goal of June 1 to begin re-opening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the transmission rate of each infected person.
“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” he said. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.”
Germany, which managed to push new infections below 1,000 daily before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes. Health officials say the number of people each confirmed virus patient infects rose above 1 again, reflecting a renewed increase in cases. The number must be below 1 for outbreaks to decline.
France is letting some younger students go back to school Monday after almost two months out. Attendance won’t be compulsory right away. Residents of some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday, but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.
China, where the virus was first detected, reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, prompting authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.
Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, three sisters and other relatives. Train services in the county were suspended.
“Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said Jilin Communist Party secretary Bayin Chaolu.
South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclubs threaten its hard-won gains against the virus. It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.