17 Apr 2020

Coronavirus: Trump unveils plan to re-open states in phases

3:00 pm on 17 April 2020

As Covid-19 continues to spread across the US, President Donald Trump has given governors guidance on re-opening state economies in the coming months.

US President Donald Trump flanked by US Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on April 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US President Donald Trump flanked by US Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus. Photo: AFP

The guidance offers criteria such as a two-week decline in "covid-like" cases as well as instating a robust testing programme.

Trump promised governors they would be handling the process themselves, with help from the federal government.

The US has 654,301 confirmed cases and 32,186 deaths due to the virus.

Trump has suggested some states could re-open this month.

In his daily briefing on Thursday, President Trump declared "the next front in our war - opening up America again".

"America wants to be open and Americans want to be open," he said. "A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution."

He said that a prolonged lockdown risked inflicting a serious toll on public health. He warned of a "sharp rise" in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, heart disease, and other "physical and mental" problems.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Trump told reporters that healthy citizens would be able to return to work "as conditions allow". He said Americans would continue to be called upon to maintain social distancing measures and to stay home if they are unwell.

He said that re-opening the US economy would be done "one careful step at a time" but he called on state governors to move "very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do".

The administration's 18-page guidance document details three phases to reopen state economies, with each phase lasting, at minimum, 14 days.

Some regions could begin returning to normal after a month-long evaluation period, at the earliest, according to a copy of the document.

In places where there are more infections or where rates begin to rise, it could take longer.

During Thursday's call, Trump told governors: "You're going to call your own shots."

"You're going to be running it, we're going to be helping you," he added.

"We'll be standing right alongside of you and we're going to get our country open and get it working and our people want to get working."

In recent days, the president has argued with state governors about the timing of easing restrictions and reopening businesses. He has now conceded that his powers are limited to issuing guidelines.

On Wednesday, White House coronavirus task force leader Vice-President Mike Pence said 24 percent of the counties in the US have had no reported coronavirus cases. He added that half of the states have fewer than 2500 cases.

Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx speaks as US President Donald Trump listens during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Dr Deborah Birx. Photo: AFP

The co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr Deborah Birx, told Thursday's briefing that as states worked through the three phases, they could allow for more and more employees to return to work in increments.

Phase three would be the "new normal" and would still include suggestions that vulnerable people should avoid crowded spaces.

Other people could begin meeting in public, but should still adhere to physical distancing, she added.

Dr Birx suggested that gyms, for instance, could open "if they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines".

The Trump administration had previously pencilled in 1 May as a possible date to reopen the nation, and on Wednesday Trump said some states may be able to reopen earlier than that.

However, some health experts and state governors have cautioned against reopening the economy too soon.

On Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, told AP news 1 May was "a bit overly optimistic" for many areas of the country, as a strong testing and tracing system would be needed before social distancing measures were lifted.

What have US governors said?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday that his state would remain under stay-at-home orders until 15 May.

Officials in the state, which is the epicentre of the outbreak in the US, say the situation is showing signs of stabilising this week, though there are still hundreds of deaths daily.

The governors of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky have announced they will work together to reopen the region.

"We recognise that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet," they said in a statement on Thursday.

There was no timeline offered, but the governors said they planned to phase in sectors of the economy.

In Michigan, which has seen over 1700 deaths due to the virus, there has been push back against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stringent lockdown measures.

On Wednesday, residents took to the streets after the governor announced the stay-at-home order would be extended.


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