The White House has urged all older Americans to stay home and everyone to avoid crowds and eating out at restaurants as part of sweeping guidelines meant to combat an expected surge of coronavirus cases.
Donald Trump, in a marked shift in tone about a crisis that has enveloped the globe, for the first time acknowledged the pandemic may send the US economy into a recession and suggested the nation may be dealing with the virus until July or August.
The guidelines, which would rewrite the norms of American society for half a month, were released as the US government tried to blunt the impact of an expected surge of cases, racing to bolster testing and aid even as financial markets tumbled.
For the next 15 days it was recommended that Americans should not gather in groups of more than 10 people, schooling should be at home, discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided, and if anyone in a household tests positive for the virus, everyone who lives there should stay home.
The administration did not define what an an older American was in terms of the recommendation to stay home.
“We will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus,” the president said. “We can turn the corner and turn it quickly.”
Asked when the pandemic would subside, he said that “if we do a really good job” the crisis could pass by the height of summer.
That was a far less optimistic take than in his earlier predictions that it could be over within weeks. He also acknowledged that the virus, which has battered global markets, may send the nation’s economy into a recession, a potentially brutal blow for an incumbent in an election year.
Mr Trump was unusually sombre about the matter after playing it down for weeks. He acknowledged the pandemic was “not under control” in the US or globally but he did not yet plan to call for domestic travel restrictions and was reluctant to advise states to cancel primary elections.
Without providing details, he said “we’re going to back the airlines 100%”, a note of reassurance for an industry crippled by travel bans and fears of spreading the virus.
The expansive guidelines were issued on a day of fast-moving developments.
Congress convened to try to finish an aid package and consider another one behind it, the Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time in over a century, and the surgeon general said the US is about where Italy was two weeks ago in the coronavirus struggle, a sign that infections are expected to rise.
Two weeks ago, Italy had 1,700 cases and 34 deaths. Now, it is reporting an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.
About 3,800 cases have been reported in the US and more than 65 people have died.
The worldwide outbreak has hit more than 180,000 people and killed over 7,100.
Mr Trump in recent days has imposed sweeping travel restrictions for much of Europe. On Saturday, he added the UK and Ireland to a list of countries facing travel restrictions over the next 30 days.
The State Department on Sunday said it would allow US personnel to leave diplomatic or consular posts worldwide if they or family members were medically determined to be at a higher risk.