President Donald Trump said Thursday that United States officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by their risk of virus spread, as he aims to begin to ease nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to the country’s governors, Trump said the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make “decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place”. States and municipalities would still retain authority to set whatever restrictions they deem necessary.
Trump, in recent days, has indicated that he wants the economy back open by April 12. But experts – including those within his administration – say restrictions, including business closures, may have to last longer as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow across the country.
Last week Trump unveiled a 15-day programme advising against large gatherings and calling for many Americans to remain at home. The guidelines, issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.
On a conference call with governors on Thursday, Trump stressed the need to reopen businesses and to recognise regional differences in the virus’s effects.
“We all have to get smart,” Trump said on the call, audio of which was obtained by The Associated Press news agency. “We have to open up our country, I’m sorry.”
Mississippi Republican Governor Tate Reeves, who has not ordered business closures or limits on social behaviour, thanked Trump for recognising that the virus has affected states differently and “one size does not fit all”.
“I appreciate you realising that,” Reeves said.
Health experts have made it clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction – staying home from work and isolating themselves – the number of infections will overwhelm the healthcare system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths.
Scientists, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, have cautioned against artificial timetables.
“You’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci told CNN Wednesday. “So you’ve got to respond, in what you see happen.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump developed the Easter date as a goal to give people “hope”.
“I think, Easter, the president was giving people a lot of hope and basically telling us it won’t last forever, and we’ll see what happens over time,” she told reporters Thursday.
While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, most significantly in New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
Trump said the roll-out of additional testing will enable more nuanced recommendations that would allow some lesser-impacted parts of the country to regain a sense of normalcy sooner.
“Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus,” Trump said.
Trump, appearing to allude to the forthcoming guidelines, promised that there would be new favourable “statistics” and “facts” coming from the federal government in the next two days.
“Some good statistics are coming out which will make your lives easier,” Trump said.