- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2020

Florida joined a growing list of states easing restrictions against the coronavirus Monday, while retailer J. Crew filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming the first major casualty of the pandemic and underscoring the urgency for the nation to get back to work.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida lifted restrictions for restaurants and stores in most parts of the state, allowing them to operate at 25% of indoor capacity. Remaining closed are schools, bars, hair salons and gyms.

At least eight other states were lifting restrictions Monday, including Georgia, which allowed several major shopping malls to reopen under tight safety guidelines. Costco is requiring shoppers to wear masks in Georgia, where about 1,200 people have died from COVID-19.

In Washington, the Treasury Department said it will seek to borrow a record $3 trillion this quarter — more than it borrowed all of last year — to cover the government’s emergency aid to distressed businesses and laid-off workers. The department expects to borrow another $677 billion in the third quarter.

J. Crew, which was founded in 1947 as Popular Merchandise and rebranded under its current name in 1983, filed to begin Chapter 11 restructuring proceedings in federal bankruptcy court in the Eastern District of Virginia. The company also said it has agreed with lenders to convert about $1.6 billion of debt into equity.

Several other major retailers were in dire financial condition before the pandemic closed stores, including Sears, JCPenney and Neiman Marcus.

One major retail chain, Macy’s, reopened 68 of its 775 stores nationwide, with another 50 stores planning to open May 11, after being closed for six weeks.

More than 30 million Americans have been thrown out of work in just six weeks since the health crisis prompted stay-at-home orders from most governors and closures of non-essential businesses.

President Trump will embark on his own reopening of sorts on Tuesday, traveling outside of the Washington area for the first time since March 28. He plans to visit a Honeywell plant in Phoenix, Arizona, to highlight the company’s efforts in manufacturing N-95 masks for health-care workers and others during the crisis.

The Trump campaign has launched a new seven-figure ad called “American Comeback,” telling viewers that Mr. Trump built a strong economy and that his leadership will help to build it again.

The president tweeted Monday that he is “getting great reviews, finally, for how well we are handling the pandemic, especially our strong production of desperately needed ventilators, the building of field hospitals & beds, and soon, the great things we are doing on testing. People are really working well together!”

The U.S. has recorded 1.2 million cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 68,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

As more states begin “phase one” reopenings, some tensions have flared. Authorities closed a popular park in Miami Beach, Florida, on Monday, five days after it had reopened, because of crowding and people refusing to wear face masks when not exercising.

New Jersey officials said eight parks were “overrun” when they reopened Saturday. Lakehurst’s mayor shut down a park after large crowds gathered, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy warned he will close parks statewide again if residents don’t social distance.

The mayors of Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey, announced their beaches will open Friday for “walking, running, fishing and surfing,” but no “stationary activity.” Beaches will be patrolled to ensure social distancing.

A conservative coalition aligned with the president issued a report card Monday giving “A” grades to nine states, eight of them run by Republican governors, on reopening their economies.

The Committee to Unleash Prosperity, in a study co-authored by conservative economist Stephen Moore, gave top grades to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming. Only Colorado has a Democrat in charge, Gov. Jared Polis.

“Our analysis shows quite clearly that the states that open up the soonest and the safest — Iowa, Georgia and Oklahoma are three examples of states are doing that — will have much swifter and stronger recoveries than states that stay closed,” Mr. Moore said. “Businesses cannot go another month without revenue. If they stay closed for another month or month and a half, you’re going to have body bags of businesses that will never recover. They will be in bankruptcy, they’ll have sold their assets.”

Four states received a failing grade of “F” — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia. All are run by Democrats, and the earliest planned reopening among that group is Pennsylvania on Friday.

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland fared the worst among all GOP governors, receiving a “D.” His stay-at-home order has no expiration date, although he has said he hopes to begin easing restrictions this month.

“This is not a partisan study whatsoever,” Mr. Moore said. “But it is striking that the states that are led by Republican governors have generally been opening up sooner than states that are the traditional ‘blue’ states of the Northeast and the West Coast.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who got an “A,” said liberals’ criticism of GOP governors for putting profit over safety is “ridiculous.”

“All the decisions that we have made have been for our citizens safety and public health,” Mr. Kemp said in a conference call hosted by the committee. “I think we’re getting to the point in our country where the ill effects of people being out of work and people being on the verge of losing their business, losing their home — it’s hard to shelter in place if you don’t have a place to shelter. And that is what’s happening in America right now. In Georgia, people can’t pay their rent. They can’t make their car payment, they haven’t been able to make their credit card payment. And people do desperate things when they get desperate.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, also a Republican, said the suicide rate in his state rises 1.6% for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate.

“We are protecting the health and lives of Oklahomans, first and foremost,” Mr. Stitt said. “We feel like it’s the right time to have a measured reopening.”

The study was written by Mr. Moore and co-authors Art Laffer, Steve Forbes and Phil Kerpen, in conjunction with the advocacy group FreedomWorks. Each governor was rated on “the extent to which they are banning economic activities, restricting individual freedom of movement, and failing to provide a clear timetable around which citizens and businesses can plan,” the committee said.

The extent of the virus in each state also was considered. The governors with A and B grades “are already moving to restore freedom and opportunity, and trusting individuals to follow best practices or isolate themselves based on their own risk assessments,” the group said.

The D and F grade governors “continue to arbitrarily ban activities without respect to any sensible risk versus benefit calculation – and are therefore taking the largest risk of all — the risk of catastrophic economic collapse,” the statement said.

New York, which has the most deaths and cases of COVID-19, received a grade of “C.” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order is set to expire May 15.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, got a “D.” His stay-at-home order currently has no expiration date.

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