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President Donald Trump said he envisions “packed” U.S. churches on Easter Sunday as he described his ambition to abandon stringent public-health measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak and re-open the economy in mid-April.
His vision appears increasingly out-of-step with both the warnings of public health professionals and the nation’s governors and municipal leaders, who have ordered entire states and cities shut down in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the virus.
“Easter’s a very special day for me,” Trump said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News. The April 12 holiday is “just about the time-line I think is right” for balancing public health concerns with efforts to protect the country’s economy.
“I think Easter Sunday — you’ll have packed churches all over our country,” Trump said, though he said the timing could shift.
Trump has said he’d re-evaluate whether to call for people to return to work after his 15-day strategy to limit social contact elapses next week. On Tuesday, he repeatedly talked about the harm a long-term economic shutdown would have on the nation.
“This cure is worse than the problem,” Trump said. “In my opinion, more people are going to die if we allow this to continue.”
One Federal Reserve officialsees a 50% drop in U.S. economic growth from social distancing efforts related to the outbreak.
But even as Trump muses about relaxing public health guidelines, governors and mayors across the U.S. are continuing the shutdown. On Monday, Indiana, West Virginia and Wisconsin all ordered residents to stay at home while Virginia and Maryland placed restrictions on non-essential movement.
“I hope and pray our president knows something I don’t know,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Republican and staunch Trump supporter, said at a news conference.
TheWorld Health Organization warned earlier Tuesday that the U.S. could become a new hub of the outbreak. While the U.S. death rate is presently unknown, Trump has claimed it is lower than 1%.
“We save our economy by first saving lives,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said Tuesday during a press conference. “When people are dying, when people don’t feel safe, this economy is not going to come back.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned not to attempt to re-open businesses and end the social-distancing campaign.
“This is a time for scientific, evidence-based decision making,” Pelosi said in an MSNBC interview Monday, adding that the cost to the economy of more deaths would be greater than the economic consequences of social isolation.
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The U.S. is showing a large acceleration in the number of infections and has the potential to become a new epicenter of the outbreak, said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based WHO. Over the 24 hours through 10 a.m. Geneva time Monday, 40% of new cases were in the U.S., more than any other country.
Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said earlier Tuesday that the White House would consider advice from public health officials as the administration moves to encourage Americans to return to work.
“We’re not abandoning the health professionals’ advice but there is a clamor to try to reopen the economy, perhaps make it less of a shut-in,” Kudlow said Tuesday to reporters at the White House. “That’s one piece, but it’s yet to be determined.”
Trump began discussing how to get Americans back to work last week, just days after issuing guidelines encouraging people to stay away from restaurants and large gatherings and educate their children at home. But he has largely trailed governors and municipal leaders, who have essentially shut down entire states and cities in order to combat the spread of the virus.
Trump was peppered with questions at a news conference Monday about how soon he would try to end U.S. “social distancing” practices and whether he would follow the advice of government health professionals. “I’ll be listening to them and others we have who are doing a good job,” he answered.
One of those professionals, Deborah Birx, the State Department physician who advises Vice President Mike Pence on the government’s response to the outbreak, said at the news conference that she didn’t think Trump’s optimism about soon relaxing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines would hurt compliance.
The president alsowarned Monday that if the economy is forced into a deep enough recession by social distancing measures, there could be deaths from suicides and other causes in excess of those caused by the coronavirus.
“Public health includes economic health — that’s a key point. It’s not either-or,” Kudlow said. “That’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it.”
— With assistance by Erik Wasson, Justin Sink, and Andrew Ballard
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