President Donald Trump said Thursday he is recommending a gradual reopening of the US economy from the catastrophic shutdown ordered to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Based on the latest data, our team of experts now agrees that we can begin the next front in our war,” he told a news conference. “We’re opening up our country.”
However, the recommendations are a far cry from Trump’s previous hopes for a sudden, widespread end to social distancing measures.
Instead Trump described a cautious approach in which state governors, not the White House, will take the lead — also a retreat for Trump who had insisted he could dictate the pace of reopening.
“Our approach will outline three phases in restoring our economic life,” he said. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time, and some states, they will be able to open up sooner than others.”
Some states, Trump said, are already free from the impact of the coronavirus and therefore can open “literally tomorrow.”
“We have large sections of the country, right now, that can think about opening,” he said.
If state governors “need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that. If they believe it is time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task and very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do,” he said.
In the White House plan, presented to governors earlier in the day, Trump laid out the plan for getting people gradually back into public venues, but offered no timetable.
Depending on locations and levels of the virus there, people will be able eventually to attend public gatherings and conduct non-essential travel.
But even in the third phase, or what government scientist Deborah Birx called the “new normal,” the White House is recommending continued, longterm extra hygiene measures.
There will also be a focus on stamping out any resurgence.
“What’s key to this is early alerts and getting in there before they have a problem,” another top government scientist, Anthony Fauci, said.
The caution at the heart of the plan represents a shift of direction for Trump, who from the start of the crisis has shown frustration with having to close down the world’s biggest economy just as he ramps up his bid for reelection in November.
Fauci said “the predominant and completely driving element” of the plan is “safety.”
“Light switch on and off is the exact opposite of what you see here,” he said.