Trump gives governors 3-phase plan to reopen economy

WASHINGTON (AP) —
President Donald Trump gave governors a road map Thursday 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.”

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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 30,000 people in the
United States have died from the virus.

Trump
also held conference calls Thursday with lawmakers he named to a new
congressional advisory task force on reviving the economy. The economic
costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million
Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month. But the
legislators repeatedly urged the president not to sacrifice public
health by moving too quickly.

“My
highest priority on this task force will be to ensure the federal
government’s efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven,
and based on the expertise of public health professionals,” said
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

The
federal government envisions a gradual recovery from the virus, in
which disruptive mitigation measures may be needed in some places at
least until a vaccine is available — a milestone unlikely to be reached
until sometime next year.

“It’s
not going to immediately be a situation where we have stadiums full of
people,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on
Thursday. “We’re Americans. We will adapt,” he added.

Trump
on Thursday 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 evening 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.

There was also concern that the White House was taking too rosy a view on trends in the U.S.

“I
would not declare a peak almost anywhere in the U.S. yet,” said Marc
Lipsitch, a Harvard epidemiology professor who is director of the
university’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. He recommended
“working to enhance surveillance and testing so if we do hit a peak, it
will be possible to identify it with greater certainty.”

But some of Trump’s conservative allies, like economist Stephen Moore, have encouraged him to act swiftly, warning of “a mini Great Depression if we keep the economy shut down.”

“That is a catastrophic outcome for our country. Period,” Moore said he advised the president.

A
big testing ground for Trump’s road map could be Texas, where
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has stuck close to federal guidance
throughout the crisis, will lay out his reopening plan Friday. Abbott
has said the process will be gradual, but he is facing pressure from
conservative lawmakers to get Texas back to work.

The
White House proposal presented Thursday is different from what the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week,
according to a draft of the recommendation obtained by The Associated
Press. The CDC talked about using more specific criteria and in many
cases looking for improvement over longer periods of time before easing
restrictions in high-transmission areas. Examples include wanting to see
sustained reductions over 30 days in positive tests for coronavirus,
and sustained reductions over 15 days in numbers of coronavirus deaths.

___

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.

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