Trump announces guidelines for reopening states when coronavirus outbreak ends

President offers no timelines in broad, non-binding recommendations to states, saying some could open ‘very, very quickly’

John T. Bennett
Friday 17 April 2020 00:17 BST
Donald Trump says coronavirus has 'passed peak' in US

Donald Trump has announced guidelines he wants governors to use to craft their own plans to reopen their states when the coronavirus outbreak ends, a climbdown from his claim on Monday that only he could give such an order. The president even suggested that some states like Montana and Wyoming could start the process as early as Friday.

Stating that the country could open “one careful step at a time”, he claimed the peak in cases is “behind us”, hailing his own “quick” action amid Democrats’ claims of a slow and ineffective US response. ”Our experts now agree we can begin the next front in our war,” he said. “Americans want to be open ... A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution ... It’s going to be up to the governors.”

The president who is so often consumed with his own re-election bid, even branded the recommendations with a twist on his Make America Great Again (2016) and this year’s Keep America Great campaign themes, titling the blueprint “Opening Up America Again”.

The guidelines lay out parameters for governors to follow in three phases, with schools in states that see no chance of a “rebound” in coronavirus cases suggested to open again in phase two. Experts say the United States cannot open many businesses for in-person work while schools and daycare facilities are still required to remain shuttered.

The White House is recommending states adhere to a set of standards before even moving into the three reopening phases. But it is not recommending any dates or timelines for how long each phase should last.

In some cases, governors might be able to reopen their communities “very, very quickly”, the president said. Asked about a handful of states out west that might meet the first “gating” criteria, Mr Trump claimed to have heard from several state leaders who say they are “in good shape”. He said, without naming any, that as many as 29 of the 50 states are in the “ballpark” of being able to start the reopening process.

Deborah Birx, one of Mr Trump’s top public health advisers, said a major part of the recommendations are built on additional testing to find those individuals who have no symptoms but are carrying the virus.

There are more than 641,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US, with over 31,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University and vice president Mike Pence. Yet, Mr Trump says his administration already has won the battle with the virus.

The president – for now, at least – appears to be comfortable allowing state leaders, even Democratic ones, to set the mood of the country for his re-election fight against former vice president Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“You’re going to call your own shots,” Mr. Trump told the state chiefs executive, according to The New York Times, citing an audio recording it obtained. “You’re going to be calling the shots. We’ll be standing right alongside of you, and we’re going to get our country open and get it working.”

Trump administration officials suggest states first see a “downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period” or the same for Covid-like symptoms. States should first see a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period”, according to a White House summary document first reported by CNN. Hospitals should first be able to treat all patients without needing to set up “crisis care” and have a “robust” testing system for at-risk healthcare workers.

The document puts considerable decision-making authority in the hands of governors, even suggesting they implement their reopening plans on a “county-by-county” basis.

Phase one for individuals keeps existing guidelines for social distancing and hand-washing in place, while allowing some employers to bring back workers in waves while still encouraging telework. It also suggest businesses close common areas and not approve non-essential travel. Gyms could open with social distancing, but bars could not.

Phase two would allow schools to reopen, as well as large venues like movie theatres and sports arenas – but with social distancing requirements. Bars could increase capacity, but the White House is suggesting social distancing stay in place.

Only in phase three could visits to senior living facilities resume.

The president rolled out his guidelines after Mr Biden slammed the incumbent’s virus response. “”What bothers me, what bothers me so much, is the president of the United States doesn’t take responsibility,” Mr Biden told MSNBC on Thursday morning. “The president of the United States acts like ... nothing is his fault. Nothing is his responsibility.”

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