Trump says White House to release guidelines on relaxing social distancing on Thursday

The White House plans to release guidelines Thursday to inform states on how to relax coronavirus restrictions and reopen businesses.

President Trump announced the plans during a news conference Wednesday, claiming data shows that the United States has “passed the peak” of COVID-19 cases nationwide.

The decision on what individual states do, however, will fall to governors across the country.

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“The battle continues but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases,” Trump said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. 

“These encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines on states for reopening the country,” the president continued, adding that the White House would outline the guidelines during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

He said the announcement would come after he and Vice President Pence hold calls with governors.

As of Wednesday evening, the novel coronavirus had sickened over 630,000 Americans and resulted in over 28,000 deaths domestically, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Trump asserted earlier this week that he had ultimate authority to decide when to open up states, though legal experts, governors and lawmakers swiftly disputed the assertion.

Trump pulled back during a press briefing on Tuesday evening, saying he would be speaking to governors and “authorizing” them to implement plans to reopen. Trump has suggested that some states that haven’t seen significant spread of the coronavirus could begin to return to normal before the White House guidelines on social distancing are due to expire.

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“We think that some states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1,” Trump said Wednesday, noting later that the country would reopen safely.  

Trump has been eager to reopen the economy as the coronavirus restrictions cause business closures and mounting job losses, insisting that the country cannot allow the “cure to be worse than the problem.”

“We miss everything,” Trump said Wednesday. “We want to get back.”

However, health experts have warned that the United States needs to ramp up testing capabilities and contact tracing before loosening restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciDeSantis breaks with Fauci, says Florida didn't rush reopening Overnight Health Care: Coronavirus deaths rise again amid mounting outbreaks | The Trump-Fauci divide is getting more apparent | New York to deliver remdesivir to Florida after DeSantis dismisses offer for help BioNTech CEO confident vaccine will be ready for regulatory approval by end of 2020 MORE, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the U.S. doesn’t currently have the capabilities in place to begin reopening the economy and described a May 1 target date as “a bit overly optimistic” for many parts of the country.

Trump touted U.S. testing capabilities during Wednesday’s briefing, saying the country had surpassed 3.3 million completed tests and describing medical advances as “critical” to progress.

He pointed to declining cases in the New York metro area, flattening infection curves in Detroit and Denver, and encouraging signs in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore as evidence social distancing was working to reduce the spread of the virus.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, noted during her own remarks that states and metro areas across the country have experienced different degrees of the outbreak and that the White House is treating them as individual areas.

She noted that nine states have reported under 1,000 cases of COVID-19 and see fewer than 30 new cases daily, while pointing to concerning signs of an uptick in cases in the Providence, R.I., metro region.

“Each of these governors and each of these mayors will have to make decisions after generalized guidelines are put out so that they can do what’s best for their communities,” Birx said.

She encouraged Americans to continue to physically distance by avoiding large public gatherings.

Earlier this week states on the east and west coasts of the country joined to coordinate on plans to relax restrictions in their respective regions.

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Trump earlier Wednesday held several calls with executives from various industries that make up a council that is advising the administration on decisions to revive the economy. During one of the calls, banking and financial executives reportedly said that the administration needed to dramatically increase testing before Americans could return to work.

Asked about the call in an exchange with a reporter on Wednesday, Trump did not deny the report and said that he agreed, before insisting that the U.S. had “great tests” and that he was working closely with the states on reopening.

Trump also insisted the administration could take “very strong action” if it opposed what a governor does to open up, adding that the federal government could “close down what they’re doing.”