New White House guidelines outline a phased approach to restoring normal commerce and services, but only for places with strong testing and seeing a decrease in Covid-19 cases.
President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s plans to ease social distancing requirements on a call Thursday with the nation’s governors.
The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places.
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phased gradual reopening of businesses and schools, with each phase lasting at least 14 days, meant to ensure the virus outbreak does not accelerate again.
Those most susceptible to the respiratory disease would be advised to remain sheltered in place until the final phase.
At the earliest, the guidelines suggest some parts of the country could have a resumption in normal commerce and social gatherings after a month of evaluating whether the easing of restrictions leads to a resurgence in virus cases.
In other parts of the country, or if virus cases resume an uptick, it could be substantially longer.
President Trump briefed the nation’s governors on the plan on Thursday afternoon, saying they were going to be responsible for deciding when it is safe to lift restrictions in their states.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” President Trump told governors, according to an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press. “We’re going to be standing along side of you.”
Meanwhile, under the federal guidelines, those most susceptible to the respiratory disease would be advised to remain sheltered in place until their area enters the final phase — and even then are advised to take precautions to avoid close contact with other people.
The federal guidelines come after seven governors in the Midwest announced they will coordinate on reopening the economy, after similar pacts were announced earlier this week in the West and Northeast.
President Trump held conference calls earlier on Thursday with politicians he named to a new congressional advisory task force.
The economic costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month.
But the legislators repeatedly urged the president not to sacrifice public health in an effort to reopen the economy.
“My highest priority on this task force will be to ensure the federal government’s efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven, and based on the expertise of public health professionals,” said Democratic Sen Mark Warner of Virginia.
Business leaders, too, raised concerns to the president in a round of calls on Wednesday, warning that a dramatic increase in testing and wider availability of protective equipment will be necessary before they can safely revive operations.
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 sometime next year.