WASHINGTON (CN) — Amid concerns that reopening the country could lead to a spike in deaths, President Donald Trump on Thursday claimed new guidance to governors on how to loosen social-distancing measures will quickly usher in a strong economy.
The president focused on the importance of a return to work in states with low numbers of Covid-19 cases, stressing the need to prioritize the economy.
“We want to get it back very, very quickly. And that’s what’s going to happen,” Trump said. “I believe it will boom.”
The plan to reopen moves states through phased guidelines that require a downward trajectory in documented cases over a 14-day period before moving on to the next phase.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump reportedly told governors on a call Thursday afternoon.
The U.S. has confirmed 667,225 Covid-19 cases, with the death toll surpassing 32,500 on Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. But from coast to coast, Americans have begun defying stay-at-home orders as many call for the economy to reopen.
The unveiled guidance follows demands from Republicans to get business back up and running, even at the risk of increased deaths as the U.S. continues to battle the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Constitution, however, puts the call squarely in the hands of states authorities. The newly unveiled White House guidance is a reversal on Trump’s claim just Monday that his “authority is total” to reopen all 50 states currently shuttered to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus.
The plan calls for opening up bars, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship, under limited physical distancing protocols.
The guidelines provide what Dr. Deborah Birx called a critical safety net. The White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, Birx said the administration purposely avoided placing timelines on the phases.
“We want the governors with the data that they have, community by community, to be setting up those timelines,” she said, emphasizing that the public continue to maximize physical distance.
Trump’s guidelines suggest states implement the three-phase approach to allow Americans to return to work. Branded “Opening Up America Again,” it cautions that state and local officials “may need to tailor the application of these criteria to local circumstances,” noting the higher risk of Covid-19 outbreaks in urban areas.
States in phases one and two will keep shelter-in-place orders and encourage employees to continue working from home. But into phase three, employees can re-enter the workplace in full force.
“Members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practice, they could carry the virus back home,” the guidelines caution individuals who chose to return to work during phases one and two.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the guidelines were designed with “multiple checkpoints” focused on public health and safety.
“The dominating drive of this was to make sure that this is done in the safest way possible,” Fauci said.
In states that move from the first to second “gating criteria,” schools and daycares can reopen and residents can again board planes and trains for nonessential traveling.
Under phase three, senior care facilities will also be allowed to resume visiting hours, with careful adherence to sanitation protocols.
Vulnerable people, senior citizens and those with serious underlying health conditions, can return to public life in phase three, advised that they “practice physical distancing” and minimize “exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.”
The plan to begin reopening the nation comes as the government announced Thursday that 5.2 million more American applied for unemployment benefits in the last week, reinforcing fears of continued economic downturns ahead.
Recommending that all employers and individuals continue to follow state, local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the plan notes Americans should continue to “strongly consider” using face coverings and practice good hygiene like washing hands and avoiding touching your face.
Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing Trump to focus on increased testing before reopening the economy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on a call with reporters Thursday, called it careless of Trump to risk increased Covid-19 deaths in order to save the failing economy.
Stressing that the federal government must assess the risk factors in rolling back shelter in place orders, Pelosi said: “It has to be a transition based on science.”
Pelosi focused on the need for increased testing. But Trump from the White House Thursday said the U.S. has “tremendous testing capacity,” a claim that contradicts reports from state authorities.
But the president continued to champion that states are well positioned to begin returning to the life Americans knew before the pandemic hit, with crowded restaurants and sold out sports arenas.
“We’re going to build this economy back bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said. “You watch.”