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States begin easing coronavirus restrictions as nationwide debate rages

Many states will have eased virus restrictions by Friday
Many states will have eased virus restriction... 03:55

Federal stay-at-home guidelines will expire on Thursday night as 35 states begin loosening social distancing restrictions. There is still a divide in this country about whether we are moving too quickly — or not fast enough — to reopen.

Some restaurants are beginning to serve customers again. In other states, including New Jersey and California, there are increases in coronavirus infections and deaths.

For most of the day, California was bracing for the worst. After reports Governor Gavin Newsom would close all beaches statewide, he announced Thursday that the closures are targeted only in Orange County where there's the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state and the sight of crowded beaches rang alarms.

"My job as governor is to keep you safe," Newsom said. "And when our health folks tell me they can't promise that if we promote another weekend like we had, then I have to make this adjustment."

Los Angeles County reported a record increase of more than 1,500 new cases on Wednesday. The City of Los Angeles is offering free COVID-19 tests to anyone, whether they have symptoms or not.

Nationwide, the debate on loosening restrictions continues. Anti-stay at home protesters — even some who were armed — marched on Michigan's state capital demanding the state reopen.

By Friday, at least 35 states will have relaxed their lockdowns, some allowing movie theaters and restaurants to open with capacity restrictions and retailers with limits on customers. Macy's said it will reopen 68 stores around the country, while NASCAR said it will restart races May 17, but without fans.

Yet, hotspots remain. At least four states saw single-day death records, including Illinois. Chicago surgical tech Juan Martinez was supposed to officially retire Thursday. He died Monday after testing positive three days after his 60th birthday.

Trump pushes fast vaccine development 02:41

In the COVID-19 epicenter of New York, deaths and hospitalizations continued to decline.  The Navy hospital ship Comfort departed the city after treating 182 patients during its 30-day mission.

On Thursday, after heavy criticism of the homeless fleeing to the subways, the governor is shutting down overnight service for thorough cleaning. "It makes sense if you don't want the infection rate to go up in your society," Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

At 12 a.m. Friday, Georgia's stay-at-home order will expire, but they are asking people at risk to stay home. And in California, a group that wants all restrictions lifted now is planning protests across the state Friday.

Nationwide, there are more than 1.067 confirmed cases of the virus, with nearly 63,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 4 million more Americans filed for unemployment in the last week alone, pushing the total number out of work past 30 million.

There is some new hope, though, about getting the pandemic under control. The president said he is launching an ambitious program to fast-track a vaccine by January — something top experts say could be possible.

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