Trump golfs, urges states to further relax restrictions as U.S. deaths near 100,000
Some religious leaders took issue with Trump saying houses of worship 'essential'
U.S. President Donald Trump played golf at one of his courses Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend as he urged U.S. states to reopen after coronavirus-related lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million and deaths neared 100,000.
In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4.
Meanwhile, some religious leaders took issue with Trump's declaration that houses of worship are "essential" and should resume in-person services this weekend.
"Being at the epicentre of this pandemic and in order to protect our flock, we advise that congregations remain closed until more accurate and uniform information is provided," said Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who oversees the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's congregations in the hard-hit New York City region.
Statewide, New York reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths — 84 — in many weeks in what Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as a critical benchmark. The daily death tally peaked at 799 on April 8.
"For me, it's a sign that we're making real progress," Cuomo said.
Rain dampened the start of the holiday weekend in the northeastern U.S., where newly reopened beaches were expected to attract throngs of people and test the effectiveness of social distancing rules. At Orchard Beach in the Bronx, which was crowded a weekend earlier, parking lots were mostly empty except for large puddles.
Farther south, Trump played golf at one of his private clubs for the first time during the pandemic — the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. He has been pushing for state and local leaders to fully reopen after months after closures and tight restrictions.
Parts of New Orleans stirred back to life, with some restaurants and businesses opening for the first time in more than two months. Some remained closed, especially in the French Quarter, which relies largely on tourist dollars.
At least a few out-of-towners trickled in. Greer Falls of Augusta, Ga., wore a mask as he entered the Royal House restaurant for lunch. After weeks at home, he said he was ready for a change of scenery and didn't want to miss a birthday celebration with friends he's known for decades.
Some amusement parks, such as Mt. Olympus in the Wisconsin Dells and Lagoon amusement park in Farmington, Utah, opened to visitors for the first time in months. The Facebook sites for both parks were flooded with comments from visitors excited to ride go-karts or roller coasters, though some complained about Lagoon's policy of requiring a mask for park entry.
Mindful of evangelical Christians who are key to his base of support ahead of November's election, Trump on Friday labelled houses of worship as "essential" and urged governors to let them reopen this weekend. However, leaders of many denominations have said they plan to move gradually and cautiously.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz said he is scrapping his 10-person limit on group gatherings and allowing houses of worship to open at 25 per cent occupancy if safety guidelines are met.
The leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, welcomed the change, but said parish priests should not reopen their churches if they don't feel they can meet safety measures.