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As U.S. nears 100,000 coronavirus deaths, governors loosen more restrictions

As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. nears 100,000, Americans eager to head back outdoors faced a mixed bag of options for how to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, with all 50 states having at least partially reopened.

While most water parks and amusement parks remain closed, governors in South Carolina and Tennessee reopened the ones in their states in time for holiday crowds. Beaches were open in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, but with strict social distancing protocols.

At New York City beaches, such as Coney Island, swimming and contact sports such as volleyball, are still not allowed. In 16 state parks with beaches, group activities remain prohibited but swimming is allowed so long as people remain six feet from each other.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised early beachgoers for keeping their distance from one another.

“People were great,” Cuomo said Saturday. “They are doing what they are supposed to do, and we thank them.”

Across the U.S., those venturing outdoors are expected to follow a wide assortment of social distancing measures as governors continue to implement individual sets of regulations for what businesses and recreation areas can reopen.

For the first time since March, New Yorkers are able to host small dinner parties and barbecues after Cuomo signed an executive order late Friday allowing gatherings of up to 10 people as long as participants keep six feet apart and follow hygienic protocols.

Cuomo said Saturday that he didn’t believe the loosening of restrictions would affect the state’s infection rate nor its ability to continue slowly reopening local economies, so long as people follow proper social distancing measures.

“You can have a safe gathering of 10 people, you can also have a wholly unsafe gathering of 10 people,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, with the national death toll standing at more than 96,000 as of Saturday morning, President Trump has continued to pressure state and local governments to reopen. On Friday, he said churches across the nation should welcome worshipers back this weekend.

The Justice Department on Friday also issued warnings to officials in Los Angeles and Illinois to loosen “heavy-handed” stay-at-home orders.

“Reports of your recent public statements indicate that you suggested the possibility of long-term lock down of the residents in the city and county of Los Angeles, regardless of the legal justification for such restrictions,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, wrote in a letter addressed to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Yet the letter was made public on the same day that White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, speaking at a news conference hosted by Trump, singled out Los Angeles and Chicago as two of three regions where the persistent spread of the coronavirus remains a major concern.

Several states, including South Dakota, Arkansas and Maine, have seen a rise in coronavirus cases this week.

In Missouri, Idaho and elsewhere, the number of confirmed cases continues to drop.

And in hard-hit New York, the number of COVID-19 deaths within a 24-hour period Friday was 84, Cuomo said.

It was the first time since late March that the one-day toll fell below 100.

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