President Donald Trump will hear recommendations from the White House coronavirus task force this weekend on plans to “open the country up” as the economy continues to strain under the pandemic.
The new guidance on how to kickstart the economy will come days after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpasses China or Italy, making it the country with the largest outbreak in the world.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the task force will share “a range of recommendations and additional guidance for going forward” with the next steps in its efforts to blunt the impact of the coronavirus.
“The president has made it clear, that in his words, he wants to open the country up. But we’re going to do that responsibly, and as the president told the governors today, we’ll do that based on the data,” said Pence, who leads the U.S. response to the outbreak.
Earlier in the day, Trump sent a letter to U.S. governors outlining his vision for the “next phase” in his administration’s plans to reopen the economy, which has ground to a halt as an increasing number of states impose harsh restrictions to try to contain the spread of the disease.
Trump said he and his administration planned to develop criteria to “help classify counties” by low, medium and high “risk” levels using “robust surveillance testing” that will allow local governments to track the spread of the virus.
It’s unclear what sort of recommendations or guidance Pence was referring to. But doctors and public health experts have warned that prematurely loosening restrictions could lead to more infections.
The president this week voiced a growing impatience with states’ strict “social distancing” measures, such as banning large gatherings of people and temporarily forcing businesses to close, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Officials say those measures are working, but there’s no clear end-date in sight for when they can be lifted. In the meantime, they have led to a record unemployment spike and a stock market in peril.
Trump has suggested repeatedly this week that areas of the country with comparatively low numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases could allow businesses to reopen in just a few weeks, if not sooner. On Tuesday, he said he wants the U.S. economy to “open” back up by Easter Sunday – though he later added that “I’m not sure that’s going to be the day.”
“People want to go back to work. I’m hearing it from everybody,” Trump said at the White House presser Thursday evening.
Yet even if Trump were to recommend new guidelines under which social distancing measures could be relaxed, they would likely have little impact on the more than 20 states where governors have issued statewide stay-at-home and business closure orders.