WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has given governors a road map 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 33,000 people in the United States have died from the virus.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams encouraged all Americans to study the new guidelines to prepare for when their areas are ready to reopen.
“We want you all to be thinking about it now," Adams told “Fox & Friends"on Friday. "We don’t want you to rush. But we want you to understand that the more you think about it now the more we’ll have the infrastructure in place.
Trump claimed the U.S. has “built the most advanced and robust testing anywhere in the world.” But even people close to him warned more would be necessary.
“We are struggling with testing at a large scale," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told ABC's “The View.” "You really can’t go back to work until we have more tests.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's likely opponent in November's presidential election, said Thursday that Trump “kind of punted.”
“We’re not going to be able to really make significant changes in the three phases the president’s talking about until we’re able to test much more broadly,” Biden said on CNN.
Suderman reported from Richmond, Va. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Washington, Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, Anthony Izaguirre in Charleston, W.Va., Mike Stobbe in New York and Mike Catalini in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.