WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is set to issue new guidelines to states on Thursday aimed at easing social distancing restrictions and reopening parts of the country as the U.S. grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
States will have to meet a certain set of “medical metrics” before they can feel safe reopening, according to the guidelines provided by senior administration officials. The officials did not provide details on metrics, but stressed that they are “recommendations” and provide governors and local leaders with flexibility.
The president has said that some states could lift restrictions, send people back to work and open schools before the current guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus end May 1.
“It’s very exciting. It’s been a horrible time to see such death and destruction,” Trump said at Wednesday’s task force briefing.
Trump and officials have said it is imperative to revive an economy that has been battered in the past month by record jobless claims and steep falls in the stock market.
The president and his aides also stressed they want to reboot the economy “safely.” One of the guidelines states that, before any reopening, states and cities need to make sure they have sufficient hospital capacity to accommodate coronavirus patients.
The announcement comes after Trump held several phone calls in recent days with business executives and lawmakers to help determine how to restart the economy. The president had initially said he would create a “task force” to examine whether to extend the social distancing guidelines but instead named more than 100 industry leaders who he said would join what the White House described as “economic revival industry groups.” It was unclear what exactly their role would be.
The White House also announced Thursday that 65 senators and 32 House members would serve as part of the Open Up America Again congressional group. The president and members of his administration spoke to lawmakers Thursday to discuss plans to restart the economy as well as a range of topics including relief for small businesses, the medical supply chain and mental health.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said the president outlined fairly basic guidelines on how the country would reopen on a call with senators Thursday afternoon, signaling that decisions could be made not just on the state level, but on a county-by-county level as well.
“One side is going to be a little more, I think, willing to take some risk on reopening and one side is going to want to make sure there are stronger assurances mostly through testing,” Braun said, adding that while he acknowledges more testing is needed, the country shouldn’t “rely on it 100% to start to reopen.”
Business executives and some elected officials have told Trump they shouldn’t reopen the economy until there is more national testing for the coronavirus in order to allow experts to monitor the spread of the virus and detect the emergence of new hot spots.
Some of Trump’s own experts are warning that reopening too soon will lead to more spikes in coronavirus cases, just at a time when the epidemic appears to be ebbing.
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that re-opening the nation will require a massive capacity to test, track and treat people for the virus, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.
While Trump has argued with governors over who has the authority to order a reopening of businesses, administration officials made clear Thursday that “the buck” stops with the governors.
“They’re specific to every governor In every state,” one official said. “They will be taking the lead on this.”
Trump discussed the “Opening up America Again” guidelines and metrics during a conference call with governors Thursday afternoon and said he would unveil the guidelines at the White House task force briefing Thursday evening.
Some governors, lawmakers, and skeptics have said reopening too soon will lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. Administration officials said the proposed guidelines have the support of doctors who have worked with the White House coronavirus task force, including task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Birx told reporters on Wednesday there are nine states that have fewer than 1,000 cases and less than 30 new cases per day.
While some Republicans have signaled they are ready to start to reopen the country for business, Democrats voiced concerns about the need for widespread testing before such a move.
Braun noted one Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., told the president that any plan needed to be “tailored” and “not a one size fits all” approach. “President Trump basically said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. That’s going be part of what I lay out.’”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of the congressional group advising Trump on the coronavirus response, said rebooting the nation too soon could also hurt the businesses themselves in the long run.
“A rushed, haphazard re-opening risks not only further lives lost but also further damage to our economy,” he said.
While the guidelines are addressed to the governors, officials said city and county leaders can also use the guidelines to make decisions about their own communities.