Trump says he hopes to have economy reopen by Easter

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE on Tuesday said he hopes to have the country “opened up” by Easter — Sunday, April 12 — his most concrete goal to date for easing off restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Trump in a Fox News virtual town hall doubled down on his push to reopen businesses in a matter of weeks in order to reinvigorate an economy stunned by the growing pandemic.

“You can destroy a country this way, by closing it down, where it literally goes from being the most prosperous,” Trump said.

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“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump later added.

His decision to set a specific date came after days of discussion among advisers, but the truncated time frame breaks with public health experts and some lawmakers who have said containing the virus should take precedence.

Trump issued guidelines on March 16 that urged Americans nationwide to avoid restaurants and bars, limit nonessential travel and keep in-person gatherings to 10 people or less. Tuesday marked the eighth day the guidelines remained in effect, and day 15 would be in a week, at which point officials had said they would reevaluate them.

Trump on Monday said his coronavirus task force would consider ways to “allow local economies to cautiously resume their activity at the appropriate time” after the end of the 15-day period.

Trump over the last two days has repeatedly argued it could be worse to let the economy slide onto a deep recession or depression than to keep strict guidelines in place to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses across the country have closed to limit the virus’s spread. The stock market has plummeted and unemployment is expected to skyrocket.

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Yet the number of coronavirus cases and deaths are also quickly increasing. There were more than 53,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Tuesday evening, and more than 700 confirmed deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

New York has become an epicenter of the virus, and there are fears its hospitals could be overrun. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) predicted Tuesday that other communities around the country would follow, saying New York was just an early epicenter for a national crisis.  

The president on Tuesday repeatedly invoked the common flu to justify his thinking, arguing that the country is not “turned off” because of thousands of deaths from seasonal influenza. Public health experts, including those working on the White House coronavirus task force, have warned the coronavirus is significantly more dangerous than the flu.

He suggested the time for workers to return to their jobs was a matter of weeks, not months, even as lawmakers and public health experts warn the virus could remain a problem into the summer.

“We can socially distance ourselves and go to work,” he said Tuesday, adding that workers can wash their hands more frequently or stop shaking hands to try to limit the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anand Parekh, a former Health and Human Services deputy assistant secretary from 2008 to 2015, argued it was unwise to make a decision to loosen the social distancing recommendations until the administration can ensure there is widespread testing and the health system will not be overrun by new cases. 

“These White House recommendations are important. They absolutely should continue. We are still on the upslope of this pandemic curve,” said Parekh, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s chief medical adviser. “The reason for social distancing is to buy time and reduce the surge on the health care system.” 

The Trump administration has faced criticism for a delayed rollout of tests for the coronavirus. Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the federal response to the virus, said Tuesday that the U.S. has now conducted more coronavirus tests in the past eight days than South Korea did in eight weeks, a sign of how the government has significantly ramped up testing.

Trump’s comments come after days of advisers debating internally over how to balance the need to stamp out the virus with aggressive social distancing measures with the desire to boost the economy. The decision has been complicated by the looming election, where Trump’s stewardship of both the economy and the response to the virus will play a key role in his bid for a second term.

The president’s comments on Tuesday made clear he is attempting to strike that balance, but is leaning toward prioritizing the economy. Some advisers have signaled in recent days that Americans are getting restless with the lack of a clear timetable for when they can return to ordinary life.

If Trump does lift federal guidelines, some states and communities could follow his lead, though other local officials could decide to keep social distancing rules in place.

Cuomo projected that the peak of cases in his state would arrive in two more weeks, making it unlikely the state will be ready to ease back into working life on Easter.

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“I think [Trump] runs the risk of creating enormous confusion because there’s going to be competing voices here saying different things,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “And I think people are going to be rightly upset and unnerved by getting different guidance from different officials.”

Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters earlier Tuesday that the administration could seek to target regions where the virus is less prevalent, building on similar assertions made by Trump the day prior.

“We’re not abandoning the health professionals’ advice, but there is a clamor to try to reopen the economy, and perhaps I’ll call it less of a shut in. And so that’s one piece that’s yet to be determined, but it’s one piece is being looked at,” Kudlow told reporters at the White House. 

But some economists and Republican lawmakers have warned of potentially disastrous consequences if Americans return to work and begin ignoring public health guidance to limit the spread of the virus.

Zandi said it’s useful to begin thinking about how and when people can start getting back to work. But the decision to set a blanket date for reviving the economy is a “big gamble,” Zandi cautioned, saying the repercussions could be even worse if the virus continues to spread and forces workers to once again go into isolation.

Even some of Trump’s most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill have pushed back strongly against the president’s perspective, arguing that the best course of action is to ensure the virus is contained before reopening businesses.

“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump says he believes Scarborough 'got away with murder' Hillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump ramps up attacks against Twitter MORE (Wyo.), a member of House GOP leadership, tweeted Tuesday.

Trump told Bill Hemmer of Fox News in a separate interview that he felt Easter was an appropriate target day in part because he hoped churchgoers could attend services on the holiday. Church services have been canceled in many parts of the country in an effort to eliminate large gatherings where the virus can spread.