WASHINGTON – As he faces a litany of questions over how to ease social distancing guidelines without sparking a reemergence of coronavirus, President Donald Trump said Friday he is creating a second task force to focus solely on how to “reopen” the country.
The president, whose senior aides have sent conflicting signals about whether or how federal guidelines should be changed when they expire at the end of April, said the second task force would be made up of “very great doctors” as well as business people and potentially members of Congress and state governors.
“This is beyond economic,” Trump said at the White House on Friday as he explained the group’s focus. “I call it the ‘opening our country task force’ or ‘opening our country council,’ so we don’t get it confused with” the primary White House task force.
“I don’t know that I’ve had a bigger decision,” Trump said.
“I’m going to have to make a decision,” he said, “and I only hope to God it’s the right decision.”
Trump has acknowledged an eagerness to ease social distancing guidelines that has at times run counter to the advice of public health officials. The makeup of the second group, which Trump said he would announce Tuesday, could signal which direction he is heading.
The president created a coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence in late January, a group that includes some of the nation’s best-known public experts such as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah Birx, who is the White House coronavirus response coordinator.
Members of the group were instrumental in convincing the president to extend distancing guidelines, which were initially set to expire in early April. Presented with projections that at least 100,000 Americans could succumb to the virus, Trump also abandoned what he later described as an “aspirational” goal to reopen the country by Easter.
As new models have predicted a lower mortality rate, some members of Trump’s administration have said it’s time to ease guidelines that Americans work from home if possible, avoid groups of more than 10 people and abandon unnecessary travel. Most of those guidelines have been embraced by states as enforceable orders.
Trump’s rhetoric on when to reopen the nation shifts considerably from day to day. Facing questions about how he will decide when to reopen the country despite the risk of a second wave of coronavirus cases, Trump has floated the idea of opening parts of the country that are less hard hit. At times he has stressed the importance of people hunkering down at home and praised Americans for doing so.
At other times he has raised concerns that the “cure” could be worse than the virus.
“Staying at home leads to death also,” the president said Friday.
Attorney General William Barr this week called the restrictions in effect in many states “draconian” and said they should be revisited next month.
State Officials, Barr told Fox News on Wednesday, should be “very careful to make sure … that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people.”
But Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Friday that “most of the country” will not be able to reopen by May 1, despite suggestions from some Trump administration officials that next month may be a time to revisit strict social distancing guidelines.
“Once we get past this thirty days, some places around the country can think about reopening,” Adams said on Fox News, referring to the 30-day period for the White House social distancing guidelines.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu