Staff & Wire Reports
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re starting our life again,” Trump said during his daily press briefing. “We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again.”
He added, “This is a gradual process.”
The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations. They make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak. And they largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors Thursday afternoon in a conference call, according to an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press. “We’re going to be standing alongside of you.”
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools.
In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.
In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.
Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.
Trump said recent trends in some states were so positive that they could almost immediately begin taking the steps laid out in phase one.
“They will be able to go literally tomorrow,” Trump said.
The guidelines recommend that states pass checkpoints that look at new cases, testing and surveillance data over the prior 14 days before advancing from one phase to another.
Governors of both parties made clear they will move at their own pace.
Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, said the guidelines “seem to make sense.”
“We’re days, maybe weeks away from the starting line and then you have to have 14 days of declining cases, of declining symptoms and hospital capacity that exists in case you have a rebound,” he said.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Trump ally, cautiously floated the idea of reopening parts of the state, but said testing capacity and contact tracing would need to be considerably ramped up before restrictions could be safely lifted.
“All would be forgotten very quickly if we moved into a stage quicker than we should, and then we got into a situation where we had people dying like flies,” Justice told reporters.
At the earliest, the guidelines suggest, some parts of the country could see a resumption in normal commerce and social gatherings after a month of evaluating whether easing up on restrictions has led to a resurgence in virus cases. In other parts of the country, or if virus cases pick up, it could be substantially longer.
In briefing governors on the plan, Trump said they were going to be responsible for deciding when it is safe to lift restrictions in their states. Just days before, he had drawn swift pushback for claiming he had absolute authority to determine how and when states reopen.
“We have a very large number of states that want to get going and they’re in very good shape,” Trump said. “That’s good with us, frankly.”
The guidelines also include general recommendations to businesses as they plan for potential reopenings, suggesting temperature-taking, rapid COVID-19 testing and widespread disinfection efforts in workplaces.
Those most susceptible to the respiratory disease are advised to remain sheltered in place until their area enters the final phase — and even then are encouraged to take precautions to avoid close contact with other people.
Governors, for their part, have been moving ahead with their own plans for how to safely revive normal activity. Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday they will coordinate on reopening their economies. Similar pacts were announced earlier in the week in the West and Northeast.
Two in three Americans expressed concerns that restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus would be eased too quickly, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday. More than 30,000 people in the United States have died from the virus.
Trump also held conference calls Thursday with lawmakers he named to a new congressional advisory task force on reviving the economy. The economic costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month. But the legislators repeatedly urged the president not to sacrifice public health by moving too quickly.
Both senators from Louisiana, Dr. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, will sit on the task force. Bossier City Congressman Mike Johnson has alsoe been asked to serve.
“I’m thankful for President Trump’s leadership and that he takes wisdom from many places. My home state has the president and his administration to thank for crucial help as we fight the coronavirus. It’s an honor to be part of a team that will help resuscitate our economy and put our people back to work—because American innovation and elbow grease is how we guarantee a future that’s brighter than ever,” said Kennedy.
Cassidy previously served on the Health task force for developing the CARES Act, the $2 trillion+ relief bill Congress passed last month.
“Americans are ready to go back to work. We must ensure that this is done safely and in accordance with best-available public health information. I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to rebuild the American economy,” said Dr. Cassidy, whose background as a physician includes work with public health and immunizations.
Cassidy has been on the forefront of advocating for long-term reopening of the economy by using a system in which Americans can voluntarily take antibody tests to determine whether they are immune to coronavirus. Such a system would be able to identify who can safely return to work. Antibody testing results would be added to existing immunity databases and protected by health privacy laws.
“It is a great honor to be asked by President Trump to serve on the Task Force on Reopening the Economy, and I gladly accepted,” Jonhson said of his invitation.
“The American people have pulled together to slow the spread of COVID-19, demonstrated selflessness beyond belief, and endured incredible sacrifice. As a result, we have begun to turn the corner in our fight against this invisible enemy. While we are not out of the woods just yet, we must focus our attention right now on bringing that same unifying spirit to reopening the American economy as soon as possible. Before COVID-19 came to our shores, our economy was as strong as it had ever been – unemployment was at historic lows, wages were on the rise, and businesses were thriving. I wholeheartedly believe that, under President Trump’s leadership, our nation can reclaim that momentum and restore our booming economy. I thank the president for this opportunity, and I look forward to getting to work.”