WASHINGTON (CN) – As the U.S. saw 100 Covid-19 deaths in a single day for the first time during the outbreak, President Donald Trump on Monday signaled measures to limit the spread of the virus may soon be coming to an end.
Trump did not give a specific timetable for lifting federal guidelines on social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus but repeatedly said it would be “soon.”
“I’m not looking at months, I can tell you that right now,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Monday.
Trump said states and local governments would still have leeway to say what measures are necessary to maintain public health, with federal attention focused on particular outbreak hotspots like New York City.
While he did not say medical professionals within the administration have endorsed the idea of lifting restrictions in the near future, he said he would listen to their suggestions, as well as those of “others,” when making a final decision.
Trump said the government needs to balance competing concerns for public health and the economy when making decisions about how quickly to lift restrictions and that the government will continue monitoring the virus even if it walks back some measures.
“And we can do that and have an open economy, have an open country,” Trump said. “And we have to do that because that causes other problems, and maybe it causes much bigger problems than the problem we’re talking about now.”
As justification for potentially easing the restrictions, the president pointed to a mortality rate from the virus that has dropped lower than some initially feared. While the true mortality rate is not yet clear, it is estimated to be closer to 1% than the 3% seen in China, though that number varies greatly with age and other risk factors.
The federal government first announced a 15-day period of social distancing recommendations a week ago, encouraging people to work from home, wash their hands and stay home if they are sick, are older, or have an underlying medical condition.
State and local governments meanwhile have gone beyond the federal recommendations, shutting down schools and businesses or ordering people to remain indoors and not gather in large groups.
Those actions, which public health experts have said are necessary to slow the spread of the virus and keep hospitals from being overrun, have led to a major economic downturn, including a plunging stock market and widespread layoffs.
Deborah Birx, an immunologist who leads the White House coronavirus task force, said the team will work this week to gather and analyze data on the outbreak to help determine what measures can be dropped and when as the initial 15-day period of the federal guidelines come to an end.
“You have to focus the resources and the intervention and the structural prevention interventions in the areas where the virus is circulating, otherwise people never understand why you’re doing this and they don’t have any virus,” Birx said Monday. “So it has to be very tailored geographically and it may have to also be very tailored by age group, really understanding who’s at the greatest risk and understanding how to protect them.”
Birx said that based on data from China and South Korea, geographic locations appear to go through eight to 10 week curves. Each hot spot in the United States is on its own timeline, making tailored mitigation and containment strategies appropriate, especially with U.S. testing capacity ramping up.
Even with the dramatic actions from state and local governments and the federal regulations, some hospital systems are warning of impending or current shortages in both supplies – including masks and other protective equipment for health care professionals – and bed space as more and more people contract the virus.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams gave a blunt warning in an interview Monday, saying the outbreak is “going to get bad” in the coming weeks.
Trump’s desire to open up businesses comes while the Senate is locked in a bitter debate over a more than $1 trillion stimulus package that includes billions of dollars in loans and grants to small businesses and specific industries struggling amid the coronavirus outbreak. Trump said he believes a deal to break the impasse is near, though one had not been announced as of Monday night.
Boeing, one of the companies in line to get loans under the bill, said on Monday it would suspend work at its facilities near Seattle, one of the areas hardest hit by the virus.