That’s it for today. Here’s what’s happened:
- Trump unveiled federal guidelines on reopening the economy. The plan includes several phases, which shouldn’t kick in unless a state sees cases decline for at least 14 days straight, despite robust testing. During his daily briefing, Trump undermined his administration’s planning, promising packed stadiums “very soon”.
- Roger Stone, the president’s longtime confidant and former aide, has been denied retrial and been released from a gag order. Stone’s defense argued that his jury was biased, but the federal judge overseeing the case ruled otherwise.
- Seven midwestern states are forming a pact to devise a regional plan on reopening. The pact, announced by the states’ governors today, mirrors similar efforts on the east and west coasts and somewhat pre-empted Trump’s announcement on the new federal guidelines.
- The Democratic chairman of the House rules committee recommended remote voting. Congressman Jim McGovern proposed allowing members to vote by proxy as a temporary measure to protect those lawmakers at higher risk of developing serious illness from coronavirus.
- New York extended its stay-at-home order until May 15. Several other cities and states — including Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Wisconsin — have similarly announced that non-essential businesses and schools will remain closed for at least several more weeks.
- Another 5.24 million people filed for unemployment last week, according to the latest report from the labor department. More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past four weeks.
When is it safe to reopen the economy? Economists and public health experts weigh in
Renee C Wurth, population health scientist:
The battle against Covid-19 has always been one against unknowns. More information is necessary to make good decisions on when and how to open the economy. While we slowly improve our understanding of who has the virus, the goalposts are shifting toward the need to understand who has had the virus. Serology testing tells us who has at least partial immunity, which both improves our ability to gauge how easily the virus will spread and also presents the possibility for governments to certify immunity. Many countries have begun discussing issuing “immunity certificates” as a pathway to returning to work. Yet research on the length of immunity, as well as more viral and serology testing, is needed before proceeding with such a system.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford’s graduate school of business:
As I point out in my book Dying for a Paycheck, there is really no trade-off between health and economic performance – at any level of analysis. Healthier people are less likely to be absent or voluntarily quit and are, no surprise, more productive and less likely to exhibit presenteeism – being physically at work but not able to concentrate. What is true for health in the workplace generally is also true for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Joe Biden has raised more than $5m in two days, according to his campaign.
“We’ve raised more money online because of these folks than we ever have,” Biden told supporters during a Zoom fundraiser, according to reporters in virtual attendance. “We’re raising, we raised I think it was $2.75 million yesterday. Two and a half million dollars a day before,” the former vice president said.
Endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama have helped, Biden said. “We’re raising more money than we ever raised because they’re going out to their people and saying, ‘It’s time to give your five bucks, it’s time to help.’ They’re going into their lists as well,” he said.
Roger Stone is denied retrial
The judge overseeing the criminal case against Roger Stone has refused to grant him a new trial, rejecting his lawyers’ argument that there was juror misconduct.
Stone, a longtime confidant and former aide to Trump, was convicted in November of seven felonies in an attempt to interfere with a congressional inquiry. Amy Berman Jackson, a federal judge, sentenced him to 40 months in prison.
Stone must appear in person “at the institution designated by the Bureau of Prisons” within 14 days to serve out his sentence, Jackson ruled. She also released Stone and his lawyers from a gag order.
The case set off a crisis at the Justice Department when Trump complained about what he viewed as a harsh sentencing recommendation of nine years in prison for his friend. Attorney General William Barr intervened and recommended a more lenient sentence, leading all four prosecutors in the case to quit the case.
The briefing has ended. Stay tuned for more news and anyalysis.
Minutes after the CDC director emphasized the importance of “early diagnosis, isolation and contact tracing,” the president contradicted the public health officials. There are states with “wide open plains, wide-open spaces,” Trump said. Aggressive testing and tracing aren’t necessary in those areas, according to the president.
“We’re beating the date” of reopening by May 1, Trump said. “That’s big stuff.”
He reiterated that many, “very important states” are ready to reopen.
But every state has hundreds, if not thousands to tens of thousands of cases. Trump will not say which states are doing well enough to considering scaling back distancing measures.
Fact check: Was the pandemic foretold?
“People should have told us about this,” Trump said, complaining that he wasn’t warned early on about the pandemic to come.
In fact Trump was warned at the end of January by one of his top White House advisers that coronavirus had the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans and derail the US economy, unless tough action were taken immediately, new memos have revealed.
The memos were written by Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, and circulated via the National Security Council widely around the White House and federal agencies. They show that even within the Trump administration alarm bells were ringing by late January, at a time when the president was consistently downplaying the threat of Covid-19.
Moreover, the US intelligence community, public health experts and officials in Trump’s own administration had warned for years that the country was at risk from a pandemic, including specific warnings about a coronavirus outbreak.
An October 2019 draft report by the Department of Health and Human Services, obtained by the New York Times: “drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed,” the Times reported.
White House guidelines to reopen the country
The White House has published the guidelines here.
The virus has affected his own friends, Trump said. “Some are dead, right now. They’re dead.” At the same time, others who contracted Covid-19, had nothing more than “sniffles,” he said.
Ultimately, 29 states are “in that ballgame” of opening, and will be able to reopen soon, the president noted.
Of course, it’s up to state leaders whether and when to lift distancing measures.
Trump said that many states have already met the criteria to reopen, but declined to name any of those states.
Undermining what Drs Fauci and Birx just said, Trump is predicting a new normal that’s pretty much exactly like the old normal.
“We want every seat occupied” in an Alabama football stadium with 110,000 seats, Trump said. If a restaurant has 158 seats, all 158 should be filled, he noted. ‘That’s our normal,” Trump said. “And it’s going to happen relatively quickly.”
Dr Anthony Fauci presented many caveats to the administration’s plan.
“There may be some setbacks. Let’s face it,” he said. “We may have to pull back a little, and then go forward.”
The transition back to the “new normal” should be slow and cautious, he said. “Light switch on and off is the exact opposite of what you see here. The dominating drive of this was to make sure that this was done in the safest way possible.”
Phase 3 is a return to the “new normal,” Birx said. We can’t go back to not washing our hands, we have to continue giving people a six-foot birth.
She didn’t say this, but I imagine that the Happy Birthday song will never be the same for many of us.
If infections continue to decrease for more two weeks, we can get to Phase 2, Birx said.
- People can go back to work, but should telework if possible.
- Non-essential travel can resume.
- Schools and daycares can reopen.
- Visits to senior living facilities should be prohibited.
- Large venues can operate, with distancing measures in place.
- Elective surgeries can resume.
If the number of infections seems to be decreasing fro two weeks, Dr Birx said there are four phrases to reopening the country:
- Americans can return to work in slow, while teleworking whenever possible.
- Non-essential travel should be avoided.
- Schools should remain closed, and visits to senior living facilities should be prohibited.
- Restaurants and gyms can reopen if they adhere to distancing guidelines.
Before the US can consider reopening, there needs to be robust testing, especially for health care workers, and indications that the number of infections is decreasing for at least 14 days.
“We want every state to have a plan to protect the health and safety of its workers,” Birx added — states and counties need to also surveil and monitor cases among nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, she said.
Fact check: Americans want to ease back distancing
“America wants to be open and Americans want to be open,” Trump said earlier.
Of course, it’s hard to argue that we don’t want to get back outside, back to work, and reunited with friends and families who live away from us. But a Pew research poll published today found that “Americans say their greater concern is that state governments will lift restrictions on public activity too quickly (66%) than not quickly enough (32%).”