As governors discuss regional plans to ease COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and ‘social distancing’ guidelines, President Donald Trump on Thursday released a three-phase roadmap on how to reopen state economies hammered by the pandemic.
The guidelines, driven by slowed rates of new coronavirus cases in some hotspots and by a desire to resurrect the economy, would ease restrictions that have kept consumers, workers and students at home in almost every state.
“Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we’re starting our life again,” Trump said Thursday evening. “We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again in a safe, structured responsible fashion.”
Trump said the “gradual process” was focused “on sheltering the highest-risk individuals.”
Trump’s top public health officials, Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, cautioned that before states start moving through the phases laid out in the guidelines, they should hit certain benchmarks, including a sustained drop in new cases over a two-week period.
States must have increased testing capacity and the ability to quickly supply facilities with ventilators and personal protective equipment. Hospitals in these states also must be back at pre-crisis conditions.
“In order to even consider getting into the phasing, you have to pass a hurdle,” Fauci told reporters.
Officials said some restrictions may remain in place in some parts of the country for the remainder of the year to help prevent any future outbreaks.
But Trump said some states can start the reopening process by May 1 or even as early as Friday. He noted there were several areas “where this has not been or has been totally eradicated.”
The Trump administration’s phase one guidelines still recommend social distancing while in public, keeping 6 feet away from others. Gatherings of more than 10 people and nonessential travel are discouraged during phase one.
Phase two calls for Americans to limit gatherings to fewer than 50 people, but travel can resume and schools and camps can reopen.
Phase three would see normal daily life return. Health officials, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, emphasized the need to quickly identify and isolate any new infections during this phase.
The Trump administration did not place timelines for the phases, leaving the process up to state and local officials with a solid understanding of local data and resources.
The new guidelines still encourage good hygiene and urge people to “strongly consider” using face coverings in public when social distancing cannot be maintained. The CDC and some states recently recommended that people wear masks when out in public.
Employers should enact new social distancing and safety measures during the initial phases of reopening. Trump said eventually, in states where it is safe, he hopes restaurants and arenas would be filled to capacity. For a time, Trump said, some sports stadiums could see fans placed a few seats apart as a precaution.
Several states in the northeast, including Massachusetts and New York, two hotspots for the disease, have recently discussed regional reopening plans. A group of Midwestern governors recently announced similar plans.
Earlier Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he wouldn’t speculate on the president’s guidelines, but that governors are interested in hearing the proposal.
“There’s been a fair amount written already and covered by the media that would imply that it’s going to be something that respects the fact that different states are in different places with regard to where they are and that there needs to be a pretty ambitious and aggressive testing program in place,” the Republican governor said.
Baker, who touted the first-in-the-nation contact tracing program, said now is not the time for people to stop “social distancing.”
Baker projects the surge began in Massachusetts on April 10 and that new cases will peak sometime around April 20.
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