Donald Trump has given US governors a road map for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in Covid-19 cases.
“We’re starting our life again,” the president said during his daily press briefing. “We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again. This is a gradual process.”
The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations.
They make clear that the return to normality will be a far longer process than he had initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.
They largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Mr Trump told the governors in a conference call. “We’re going to be standing alongside of you.”
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools.
We have a very large number of states that want to get going and they’re in very good shape. That's good with us, franklyDonald Trump
– Phase one recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided, and non-essential travel is discouraged
– Phase two encourages people to maximise social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume
– Phase three envisions a return to normality for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections
Mr Trump said recent trends in some states were so positive they could begin phase one almost immediately.
“They will be able to go literally tomorrow,” he said. “We have a very large number of states that want to get going and they’re in very good shape. That’s good with us, frankly.”
The guidelines recommend that states pass checkpoints that look at new cases, testing and surveillance data over the prior 14 days before advancing from one phase to another.
Governors of both parties made clear they will move at their own pace.
Delaware governor John Carney, a Democrat, said the guidelines “seem to make sense”.
“We’re days, maybe weeks away from the starting line and then you have to have 14 days of declining cases, of declining symptoms and hospital capacity that exists in case you have a rebound,” he said.
West Virginia’s Jim Justice, a Trump ally, cautiously floated the idea of reopening parts of the state, but said testing capacity and contact tracing would need to be considerably ramped up before restrictions could be safely lifted.
“All would be forgotten very quickly if we moved into a stage quicker than we should, and then we got into a situation where we had people dying like flies,” he told reporters.
At the earliest, the guidelines suggest, some parts of the country could see a resumption in normal commerce and social gatherings after a month of evaluating whether easing up on restrictions has led to a resurgence in virus cases. In other parts of the country, or if virus cases pick up, it could be substantially longer.
The guidelines also include general recommendations to businesses as they plan for potential reopenings, suggesting temperature-taking, rapid Covid-19 testing and widespread disinfection efforts in workplaces.
The plan was announced as a growing wave of unrest over lockdown measures appeared to be rising in the US, with protests in various states.
In places including Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, actions of dissent have been organised outside governors’ mansions and state parliament buildings.
Small-government groups, supporters of Mr Trump, anti-vaccine advocates, gun rights backers and supporters of right-wing causes have united behind a deep suspicion of efforts to shut down daily life to slow the spread of the Covid-19.
As their frustration with life under lockdown grew, they started to openly defy the social distancing rules in an effort to put pressure on governors to ease them.
Some of the protests have been small events, promoted through Facebook groups that have appeared in recent days and whose organisers are sometimes difficult to identify.
Others are backed by groups funded by prominent Republican donors, some with ties to Mr Trump.
The largest so far, a rally of thousands that jammed the streets of Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday, looked much like one of the president’s rallies — complete with Maga (Make America Great Again) hats or Trump flags.