Public spaces were filled with visitors over the weekend as some states began loosening lockdown measures and experts now warn the premature reopening could drive up the country's coronavirus death toll -- by nearly double, according to one prediction.
In the past two weeks, governors across the country introduced plans for phased reopenings amid mounting pressure from residents and businesses who are fearful of devastating economic impacts of lockdowns.
But the alternative could be worse.
"It's the balance of something that's a very difficult choice," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious disease expert, told CNN Monday night. "How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality, sooner rather than later?"
At least 42 states will be partially reopened through May 10, including California -- the first state to implement a sweeping stay-at-home order -- where some stores will be allowed to reopen this week.
A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now predicting the US could see 134,475 deaths by early August --- a massive spike since its previous prediction of 74,000 deaths just last week.
A separate model from the Trump administration is also projecting that cases and deaths will rise in the next weeks, with the death toll reaching 3,000 daily victims by June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times.
So far, the US has recorded more than 1,180,600 infections and at least 68,934 deaths. Over the weekend, parks in New York City and Atlanta drew crowds as residents began venturing out of their homes. In the city of Miami Beach, more than 7,300 warnings were issued to people who weren't wearing face covers, while more than 470 warnings were given to those who failed to practice social distancing.
Forgetting about social distancing measures too quickly can result in a rebound, Fauci says. And that's highly likely with a virus that he says can spread "like wildfire."
"It has a phenomenal capability and efficiency in spreading from person to person," Fauci said Monday. "This virus has enormous capabilities of spreading like wildfire. We know that."
California was one of the states where crowds gathered over the weekend -- thousands of protesters descended on the state's Capitol and an Orange County beach to protest social distancing orders from the governor.
On Monday, the governor announced retail shops in the state -- including clothing stores, florists and book shops -- can begin to reopen on Friday, after health officials said the state was meeting important metrics including sufficient test and tracing capacity.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the lockdown will continue "until at least May 15," warning that reopening the state too soon could lead to a second shutdown.