Six U.S. states to coordinate gradual reopening after coronavirus shutdown

By Maria Caspani and Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Six states in the U.S. Northeast took the first tentative step on Monday toward reopening their economies by forming a regional panel to develop a strategy for the gradual lifting of restrictions aimed at stanching the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement of the panel, to include economic and health officials from each state as well as the chief of staff of all six governors, came after President Donald Trump insisted that any decision on restarting the economy was his to make.

The states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, with a total population of 32 million, will join with neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in coordinating their efforts to reopen the economy as more signs the outbreak has stabilized emerged over the weekend.

The joint planning reflected growing concern among health officials and political leaders that easing stay-at-home orders too soon could allow the pandemic to re-accelerate, undoing hard-won progress the country has made in recent weeks.

“Nobody has been here before, nobody has all the answers,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said during an open conference call with his five counterparts. “Addressing public health and the economy: which one is first? They’re both first.”

Cuomo said earlier on Monday that reopening “is a delicate balance” that involved “recalibrating” which businesses and activities are essential.

The number of deaths reported in the United States overall on Sunday was 1,513, the smallest increase since April 6. The largest number of fatalities is still in and around New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.4 million people.

Tensions between state governors and U.S. President Donald Trump have bubbled up since the outbreak worsened a month ago and surfaced in the debate about when and how to restart economic activity.

“It is the decision of the president, and for many good reasons,” Trump said on Twitter on Monday. He went on to write that his administration was working closely with the governors.

“A decision by me, in conjunction with the governors and input from others, will be made shortly!” Trump’s tweet said.

Legal experts say a U.S. president has limited power under the U.S. Constitution to order citizens back to their places of employment, or cities to reopen government buildings, transportation, or local businesses to reopen.

‘WORST IS OVER’ BUT…

Cuomo said on Monday that “the worst is over” for his state, the U.S. epicenter of the virus, but he hedged his remark with a warning that gains achieved through social distancing could be undone if “we do something stupid” and relax those restrictions too quickly.

“We can control the spread. Feel good about that,” Cuomo said. “The worst is over, if we continue to be smart going forward.”

Political leaders said a reopening of the economy may hinge on more widespread testing and cautioned that lifting of stay-at-home restrictions too early could reignite the outbreak. The Trump administration has signaled May 1 as a potential date for easing the restrictions.

The United States, with the world’s third-largest population, has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19 than any other country, with more than 23,000 deaths as of Monday morning, according to a Reuters tally.

Wyoming reported its first death from the coronavirus on Monday, the final U.S. state to report a fatality.

Official statistics, which exclude deaths outside of hospitals, have understated the actual number of people who have succumbed to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, health experts said. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

More than 10,000 people have died in New York state, and the death rate was “basically flat at an horrific level of pain and sorrow,” Cuomo said, referring to a flattening of the curve as seen on a graph.

In New York City, three indicators have to show a sustained decline before the city could consider the outbreak to be in a less dangerous phase, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: the daily number of people admitted to hospitals, the number of people in intensive care units, and the percentage of positive tests for the virus.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot acknowledged a “tightening” of the supply chain for swabs needed in coronavirus testing, and said it was part of a “national and international challenge” to ramp up testing.

Chris Sununu, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, said testing for the coronavirus had improved “but we don’t have enough. Nobody has enough.”

“There’s just a limited supply for a massive amount of demand,” Sununu told CNN.

To ease the impact of the shutdown on the U.S. economy, the two top Democrats in the U.S. Congress urged Republicans on Monday to authorize more funding for national testing. An effort to rush fresh assistance to U.S. small businesses stalled in Congress as the health emergency failed to overcome partisan differences between Republicans and Democrats.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani Jessica Resnick-Ault; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Icy blast begins to ease in U.S. Midwest, Northeast

A worker from AAA aids vehicle trapped in snow during the polar vortex in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

By Michael Hirtzer and Gina Cherelus

CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Frigid weather that paralyzed a large swath of the United States this week and caused at least 21 deaths began easing on Friday as an Arctic air mass pulled away, setting the stage for a warmer weekend in the Midwest and the Northeast.

Temperatures from southern New England to the Upper Midwest should reach the mid-40s to low 50s Fahrenheit through the weekend and Monday, forecasters said, after a record-breaking cold snap that stopped mail deliveries in some parts of the Midwest and shuttered schools and businesses.

In Chicago, which experienced temperatures as low as minus 22F (minus 30 Celsius) earlier this week, temperatures of 19F (-7C) on Friday morning felt positively balmy as a measure of normalcy returned to the nation’s third-largest city.

“It feels like summer,” said Dolores Marek, 57, as she got off her commuter train in Chicago wearing a long parka coat as set out on the 1.5 mile-(2.4 km) walk to the local college where she works. “This is much better than it was.”

Meteorologists linked the spell of brutal cold to the so-called polar vortex, a cap of icy air that usually swirls over the North Pole. Changing air currents caused it to slip down through Canada and into the U.S. Midwest this week.

Bryan Jackson, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the core of the vortex was pulling north into eastern Canada, though residual icy air was still pushing over to the U.S. Northeast.

Temperatures on Friday morning ranged from below zero Fahrenheit to the teens in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The Washington D.C. area, which had 20F (minus 7C) temperatures, was under a winter weather advisory until the afternoon as around one inch (2.5 cm) of snowfall accumulated during the morning.

“That cold air that was over the Great Lakes, over the Midwest, has shifted off. Now the high pressure is over Pennsylvania and New York,” Jackson said in a phone interview. “As it moves east, it’ll bring in air from the south and we do expect it to warm up over the weekend.”

Rachel Liao, 29, a student at the New School in New York, said she wished classes had been canceled due to the cold.

A woman takes a selfie in front of a mostly frozen Bryant Park fountain, as record low temperatures spread across the Midwest and Eastern states, in New York City, U.S., January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A woman takes a selfie in front of a mostly frozen Bryant Park fountain, as record low temperatures spread across the Midwest and Eastern states, in New York City, U.S., January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“I just want to stay inside,” Liao, a New York native, said. “I’m not used to this.”

Temperatures in the Upper Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, will reach well above zero F (minus 18C) on Friday, with highs making it into the teens and low 20s.

Even so, parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa were still experiencing temperatures in the negative single digits, Jackson said.

The lowest temperature recorded early Friday morning was minus 34F (minus 37C) in Stonington, Michigan, according to the National Weather Service.

By Saturday, highs will be in the 30s and even low 40s in the Midwest. The central Plains will be in the low 60s, nearly 20 to 25 degrees above normal, the weather service said.

More than 40 cold-temperature records were broken on Thursday, the coldest morning since the polar vortex moved in late on Tuesday. The mass of Arctic air had clung to a swath of the United States from Iowa and the Dakotas across the Great Lakes region and into Maine for days.

Officials across multiple states linked at least 20 deaths to the deep freeze. The death toll rose after at least nine more people in Chicago were reported to have died from cold-related injuries, according to Stathis Poulakidas, a doctor at the city’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

Amtrak train services that had been halted since Wednesday in Chicago’s hub resumed on Friday, as did U.S. postal service that was halted or limited in six Midwest states.

Thousands of flights were canceled and delayed earlier in the week, mostly out of Chicago, but on Friday the flight-tracking site FlightAware reported cancellations in the United States down to more than 400.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Gabriella Borter in New York and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Larry King, Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry)

Power outages linger as U.S. Northeast recovers from deadly storm

Commuters wait as service was temporarily suspended on all Metro North lines at Grand Central Terminal due to storms in Manhattan, New York, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A violent spring storm that killed at least five people in the northeastern United States downed trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power on Wednesday.

By daybreak, more than 370,000 residents were without power in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, down from more than 600,000 on Tuesday night.

Amtrak and most local commuter railroads in the New York metropolitan area said their services were back to normal on Wednesday. Some schools canceled classes or delayed their openings.

The line of strong thunderstorms with wind gusts of 50 to 80 miles per hour (80 to 129 kilometers per hour) sped eastward across the region Tuesday evening, causing local flooding, scattering debris and dropping hail as large as tennis balls.

Falling trees killed an 11-year-old girl and a woman in separate incidents in Newburgh, New York, police said. Falling trees also killed two people in Connecticut in separate incidents, as well as a person in Pennsylvania, local media reported.

Local news showed footage of trees resting on top of crushed cars and houses, and vehicles submerged in water.

There were more than 100 reports of hail in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in several counties in southeast New York and deployed members of the New York National Guard to assist with the recovery.

Officials in Brookfield, Connecticut, declared a town disaster and told residents to stay inside until they could assess the damage.

“Please be aware that there are hundreds of downed trees, utility poles and electrical lines. AVOID all down trees and utility poles as they may still involve LIVE power lines,” the Brookfield Police Department said on Facebook.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Second U.S. winter storm forces hundreds of flight cancellations

The Brooklyn Bridge is seen partially in fog from in front of the Manhattan skyline in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 12, 2018.

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A second winter storm in as many weeks caused hundreds of flight cancellations across the United States, airlines reported on Tuesday, potentially dealing a further blow to carriers’ first quarter outlooks.

As the storm sweeps across southeast Texas and up the East Coast dumping snow, sleet and freezing rain, airlines have already canceled flights into Wednesday in anticipation of difficult conditions.

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by passenger traffic, had canceled some 270 flights between Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the storm, it said.

Rival Delta Air Lines, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic, said it had canceled about 275 Tuesday flights and expected additional cancellations in New York and Boston as the storm tracked north.

The third-largest U.S. carrier, United Airlines, said it had canceled more than 700 flights on Tuesday. United was offering to waive fees for changes to flights to and from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other affected airports for scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday flights.

The storm itself is relatively minor compared to other winter weather events, and several hundred flights represent only a tiny percentage of airlines’ overall operations. But such storms are still a nuisance to carriers and can cost them millions of dollars in lost revenue.

A massive winter storm at the onset of the year caused thousands of cancellations, as several inches of snow and ice paralyzed the U.S. Northeast and forced the closure of some of the region’s biggest airports.

(Reporting by Alana Wise, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)