Trump’s Guidelines to Reopen Economy Put Onus on Governors

White House Outlines Three Phases to Restart Economy

Redacted from article by Andrew Restuccia and Catherine Lucey

Wall Street Journal  April 16, 2020

WASHINGTON—President Trump outlined broad new federal guidelines for opening up the country that will put the onus on governors to decide how to restart the economies in their states amid mounting fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

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The new guidelines come as lawmakers and business leaders press the administration to expand virus testing, and days after Mr. Trump said that he—not governors—was the final arbiter on when to reopen the country.

“America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, adding later, “We must have a working economy, and we want to get it back very, very quickly.”

We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Mr. Trump said.

The guidelines don’t suggest specific reopening dates. Instead, they encourage states to base their decisions on data. The White House’s plan says states should move to the first phase of reopening after exhibiting a downward trend of documented cases or positive tests over a two-week period. States could move onto the other stages after showing that cases aren’t surging.

Under the first phase, movie theaters, restaurants, sports venues, places of worship, gyms and other venues could open with strict social-distancing guidelines in place, though bars would stay closed. Schools and day-care centers that are closed would remain shuttered. The plan recommends that vulnerable individuals remain at home during the first phase, and prohibits visits to nursing homes and hospitals. Some people could return to work in phases, though telework is still encouraged under the plan.

In the second phase, nonessential travel could resume and bars could open with some restrictions. Schools and youth activities could reopen. Vulnerable individuals would still be told to stay home and visits to nursing homes and hospitals would still be barred. Telework would continue to be encouraged.

For phase three, there would be no restrictions on workplaces and vulnerable people could resume social interactions, but should seek to follow social distancing. Visits to hospitals and nursing homes could resume, and bars could increase their standing-room capacity.

The president said some states with few cases could proceed to the first phase as early as Friday if they meet the criteria. He declined to name any specific states, deferring to governors, but said there are as many as 29 states that could soon begin the process of opening.

But officials stressed that the virus could make a comeback in some states. “There may be some setbacks. Let’s face it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious-disease expert, cautioned. “We may have to pull back a little, and then go forward.”

The president told governors during a videoconference earlier Thursday that they will make the final decision on opening their states.“You’re going to call your own shots,” 

Mr. Trump praised the guidelines and said he wanted to get the country running again. He told the governors that some states were in “good shape” to open quickly, even before May 1 if they want, though other states may need to take longer.

He also said the country’s testing capabilities are excellent, adding that the testing process has improved from early versions that involved sticking a swab into the nasal cavity.

Mr. Trump said the new guidelines have been approved by the administration’s public-health advisers, including Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, and Dr. Fauci.

Some states have already extended restrictions past April 30. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday that nonessential businesses in his state would remain closed at least through May 15.

Mr. Cuomo is part of a coalition of East Coast governors consulting each other on coronavirus guidelines. A similar group exists on the West Coast, and a bipartisan group of seven Midwestern governors said Thursday it would do the same.

In a news briefing after the call with Mr. Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said a task force he created to plan for a reopening would meet for the first time on Friday, and he hopes to announce a plan within a week.

Public-health experts, including some in the Trump administration, have warned that reopening the country too soon could prompt a second wave of coronavirus cases, undercut ongoing mitigation efforts and overwhelm the health-care system. Dr. Fauci said this week that the country lacked the testing and virus-tracing capabilities needed to reopen. Some business executives raised similar concerns during a teleconference with Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump held phone briefings on Thursday with House and Senate lawmakers. The White House announced a coronavirus advisory group made up of elected officials, part of a broader task force of more than 200 business executives that Mr. Trump established this week.

The bipartisan group includes all Republican members of the Senate, except Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Mr. Trump in the impeachment trial in February. Twelve Senate Democrats will serve on the committee, alongside 32 House members—22 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Mr. Trump is eager to reopen the country as soon as possible, according to White House officials, who are closely tracking the ailing economy. Another 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total seeking aid in a month of coronavirus-related shutdowns to 22 million.

—Michael C. Bender, Natalie Andrews and Sabrina Siddiqui contributed to this article.

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