WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signaled Monday that he is eager to lift federal social distancing guidelines announced last week that were intended to slow the spread of coronavirus but that have taken a heavy toll on the economy.
The White House announced the guidelines March 16, and Trump said the aim was to “bend the curve” of new COVID-19 cases to reduce the strain on hospitals. It’s difficult to say how effective the guidelines have been, but public health experts have said social distancing is key to reducing transmission of the virus.
Adopting a mantra that has bounced around conservative media for several days, Trump asserted in a tweet late Sunday that the nation could not let the “CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM,” then retweeted several users arguing that most Americans without underlying health conditions should soon return to work.
Here’s what to know about the Trump administration’s guidance:
What is Trump’s coronavirus guidance?
Trump and federal health officials announced guidelines March 16 to slow the spread of coronavirus. Officials describe the effort as “15 days to bend the curve” of new cases. The guidelines called on Americans to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and suggested that states with “community transmission” close their schools, bars, restaurants and other businesses.
“Each and every one of us has a critical role to play,” Trump said. “If everyone makes these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation, and we will defeat the virus.”
The guidelines recommended that seniors stay home and avoid contact with other people, that Americans avoid discretionary travel shopping trips and social visits and that customers use drive-thru, pickup and delivery options instead of eating out.
When will those guidelines lift?
The short answer is: It’s impossible to say. The Trump administration rolled out the guidelines March 16 and said they would last 15 days, which would run to about March 30. Trump and others indicated early on that they might need to extend the guidelines. Public health officials suggested they may need months, not weeks, to arrest a rapid spread that could overwhelm the nation’s medical system.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said March 16 at a news conference, in response to a question about how long the social distancing guidelines may need to be in place. “But they think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that. But I’ve asked that question many, many times.”
Public health officials warned Americans against heading out.
“This week, it’s going to get bad,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams predicted on NBC’s “Today” show Monday. “Everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now: Stay home.”
What does Trump say now?
Trump signaled he is considering lifting social distancing guidelines once the 15-day window expires. He hasn’t said he will – just that he’s thinking about it.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump posted Sunday on Twitter just before midnight in Washington. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Trump retweeted two users who used similar language to urge that only “high risk groups” be isolated and that the rest of America goes “back to work.”
The tweets are a classic Trump public relations move. The president could be serious about lifting the guidelines or he could be working to pump up financial markets, which have plummeted as the restrictions put a heavy weight on the economy. Or he could have something else in mind. The president often signals in one direction while moving in another.
What about stay-at-home orders?
It’s important to note what the Trump administration didn’t do March 16. Despite rumors and phony social media posts, the administration did not impose a nationwide quarantine. There is considerable legal debate about the president’s powers to lock down the nation.
Individual states have taken more aggressive positions.
New York, which has been particularly hard hit by the virus, required all nonessential businesses to close or face up to $2,000 in fines. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed an order Sunday requiring residents to stay at home except for visits to the doctor or the grocery store. Even if the federal government lifts its guidelines at the end of next week, those state orders would remain in effect.
Contributing: David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian