Next wave of U.S. states prepare to reopen as coronavirus could push jobless rate to 16%

By Nick Brown and Brendan O'Brien

By Nick Brown and Brendan O'Brien

NEW YORK/CHICAGO, April 26 (Reuters) - Another wave of U.S. states are preparing to lift coronavirus restrictions this week against the warnings of many public health experts as the White House sees this month's jobless rate hitting 16% or higher.

Health experts say increased human interaction could spark a new wave of cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly contagious virus that has already killed nearly 54,000 Americans.

Colorado, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee will join other states beginning an experiment to reopen economies without the testing and contact-tracing infrastructure health experts say is needed to prevent a resurgence of infections, with lives in the balance.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina have already taken steps to restart their economies following a month of government-ordered lockdowns.

Those unprecedented restrictions resulted in a record 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits since mid-March. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted on Friday that the economy would contract at nearly a 40% annual rate in the second quarter. Even next year, the CBO forecast the unemployment rate averaging above 10%.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters the U.S. jobless rate would likely hit 16% or more in April.

"I think the next couple of months are going to look terrible," Hassett said on Sunday. "You're going to see numbers as bad as anything we've ever seen before."

Against a backdrop of scattered protests across the country calling for stay-at-home orders to be lifted, Tennessee said it will allow restaurants to reopen on Monday. Mississippi's stay-at-home order expires the same day.

Montana is allowing businesses to reopen Monday if they limit capacity and practice social distancing, while Minnesota will let some businesses restart on Monday, allowing 80,000 to 100,000 people in the industrial, manufacturing and office jobs to go back to work.

In Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis has given the green light for retail curbside pickup to begin on Monday. Hair salons, barbershop and tattoo parlors can open on Friday, with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.

Royal Rose is reopening her tattoo studio in Greenly, Colorado this week after closing a month ago, not because she wants to but because the bills are piling up and she says she has no choice.

"I would stay home if the government encouraged that, but they're not, they're saying 'Hey, the best thing to do is go back to work, even though it might be risky,'" said Rose, 39, sitting inside her salon in a wood-sided building on a leafy street in the farming and oil town.

But the lifting of restrictions is not uniform across most states. For example, Denver extended stay-at-home orders to May 8 but city dwellers can drive to a nearby county for a haircut. Georgia prohibited any local laws stricter than the state law.

Eight states never ordered residents to stay at home -- Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

Several opinion polls have shown a bipartisan majority of Americans want to remain at home to protect themselves from the coronavirus, despite the impact to the economy.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by by Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)