US President Donald Trump has said he is prepared to announce new guidelines allowing some states to quickly relax social distancing measures.
Mr Trump’s comments came despite business leaders telling him they need more coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment before people can safely go back to work.
The new guidelines, expected to be announced on Thursday, are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of Covid-19. The ultimate decisions will remain with governors.
Mr Trump said: “We’ll be opening some states much sooner than others.”
But in a round of calls with business leaders earlier in the day, he was warned that a dramatic increase in testing and wider availability of protective equipment will be necessary for the safe restoration of their operations.
The new guidelines come as the federal government envisions a gradual recovery from the virus, in which disruptive mitigation measures may be needed in some places at least until a vaccine is available – a milestone unlikely to be reached until next year.
Mr Trump said at his daily briefing that data indicates the US is “past the peak” of the Covid-19 epidemic, clearing the way for his plans to roll out guidelines to begin to “reopen” the country.
He called the latest data “encouraging”, saying the numbers have “put us in a very strong position to finalise guidelines for states on reopening the country”.
Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus taskforce co-ordinator, added that data from across the country showed the nation “improving” but that Americans had to recommit to social distancing to keep up the positive momentum.
She said nine states have fewer than 1,000 cases and just a few dozen new cases per day. She said those would most likely be the first to see a lifting in social distancing restrictions at the direction of their governors under the new guidelines.
Mrs Birx said the White House was particularly concerned about Rhode Island, noting it is now seeing a surge in cases from the Boston metro area after seeing a spike several weeks ago from cases from New York.
Mr Trump consulted dozens of high-profile CEOs, union officials and other executives via conference calls on Wednesday.
He received a mixed message from the industry leaders. They, too, said they want to get the economy going but had worries about how to safely do so.
In a tweet midway through Mr Trump’s round of conference calls with the executives, the president said the participants were “all-in on getting America back to work, and soon”.
But participants in a morning call that included dozens of leading American companies raised concerns about the testing issue.