The White House released new guidance late Thursday afternoon for states to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the decisions up to governors to make on a statewide or county-by-county level.
The guidance, which will be formally announced during a 6 p.m. news conference, doesn’t lay out a specific timeline for relaxing social distancing restrictions. It lists a set of criteria — such as testing and hospital capacity — for state leaders to use in making their decisions.
On a conference call earlier Thursday, Trump told governors, “You’re going to call your own shots,” according to a recording of the call obtained by The Washington Post. But he emphasized that the federal government will support the states.
Trump told the governors they had “leeway” on testing, without getting into details.
“Testing is very interesting,” Trump said on the call. “There are some states where I think you can do with a lot less testing than other people are suggesting. … Some are big believers in the testing. Some believe a little less.”
He also appeared to to cite recent protests, such as one this week in Michigan, when making the case for why the country needed to be reopened immediately.
“People are not going to stand for this,” Trump said of the country being closed down.
The guidelines suggest that before reopening, states should first see a decrease in confirmed covid-19 cases over a 14-day period. That suggestion is in line with the recommendations of public health experts, who have said that due to the virus’s 14-day incubation period, states should refrain from moving toward relaxing their restrictions until they have seen a sustained reduction in new cases for at least that long.
The White House plan also states that hospitals should be able to “treat all patients without crisis care” and have a “robust testing system in place for at-risk health care workers” before proceeding to a phased reopening.
As he did at Wednesday’s coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden, Trump on Thursday said that the states, rather than the federal government, are “going to lead the testing.”
“Much better for you to do it than the big federal government,” he told the governors.
But some governors appealed to Trump for more testing kits and supplies, pointing to shortages of key equipment in their states.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) said that his state recently got the “great Abbott machines,” referring to the highly sought-after rapid-response tests developed by Abbott Laboratories — but “two weeks later, we don’t have testing kits to actually use them.”
“Testing supplies do remain a challenge,” Bullock said.
Trump also held a conference call with senators earlier Thursday. During the call, the president largely held back and listened to the senators, as both Democrats and Republicans alike pressed him on the need for more broad testing availability, according to senators on the call and other officials briefed on it.
Democrats in particular expressed wariness to the president about re-opening the economy until the testing was robust enough, according to one of the officials, who spoke anonymously to discuss a private conference call.
Still, some GOP senators also spoke of their vision for what a re-start of the economy would look like,
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who participated in the call Thursday, said the re-openings should be staggered, county by county, state by state, depending on each localities’ circumstances – and that Trump was “definitely” receptive to that position. Braun warned in an interview that the economy was “very close to the point of irreparable damage.”
“There’s no way we’re going to be able to test comprehensive enough and with enough confidence where it would assuage the fears of people who want that in place before you re-open the economy,” Braun said.
But the eagerness of Trump and some other Republicans to re-open the stalled economy alarmed the Democrats on the call, who all pressed the president for more expansive testing. Trump and Vice President Pence told senators that the current testing capacity was about 120,000 tests per day, said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who also participated on the call.
“We need to do this in a methodical way and not just rush forward and put lives at risk,” said Sen. Duckworth, one of the 13 Democratic senators selected for the president’s task force on re-opening the economy.
One senator also asked Trump why the drug hydroxychloroquine – an anti-malarial drug that Trump has publicly touted as a promising treatment for the coronavirus, despite lack of scientific proof – wasn’t yet being prescribed to combat the coronavirus, and the president supported that idea.
About eight or nine Republican senators spoke, as well as about three or four Democrats, Braun said.