WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he hopes the United States will be reopened by Easter in many areas of the country as he weighs how to adjust nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak.
During a press briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said public health officials and economists were “working to develop a sophisticated plan to open the economy as soon as the time is right — based on the best science, the best modeling and the best medical research there is anywhere on earth.”
The Associated Press and others in the national media claim Trump’s optimism is “contradicted the warnings of some public health officials who called for stricter — not looser — restrictions on public interactions.” AP did add that “federal officials suggested that advisories could be loosened in areas not experiencing widespread infection.”
Trump said Tuesday he was already looking toward easing the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall. Easter is just over two weeks away — Apr. 12.
In some areas, scientists warned the worst is yet to come — with hospital systems tested over capacity and health workers sidelined by exposure — Trump nevertheless addressed the nation, saying he was beginning “to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
White House officials urged people who have left New York City amid the outbreak to self-quarantine for 14 days after their departure. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease can still spread.
The U.S. is now more than a week into a 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities. The guidelines, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.
“I gave it two weeks,” Trump said during the town hall from the Rose Garden. He argued that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from the seasonal flu and in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”
When the 15-day period ends next Monday, he said, “We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up.” He added, “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House task force, said any move would have to be guided by data still being collected. She suggested that public health professionals could recommend a general easing, while pushing for local restrictions to remain in the hardest-hit areas.
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that “public health includes economic health.”
“That’s the key point. And it’s not either-or. It’s not either-or, and that’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it,” he said.
During a conference call on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence, when pressed on a specific timeline for lifting restrictions, said there would be no formal decisions made until the current 15-day period of social distancing was complete.
Pence told the group that accommodations would need to be made for the highest-risk populations if and when restrictions begin to be lifted.