Pence says officials will weigh potential adjustments to social distancing guidelines

Vice President Pence said Monday that the White House coronavirus task force would evaluate ways to potentially adjust recommendations for social distancing after the 15-day period specified in the initial guidelines expires next week.

“At the end of this 15 days, we're going to get with our health experts. We're going to evaluate ways in which we might be able to adjust that guidance for the American people,” Pence told reporters at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Monday when asked about whether the administration was considering relaxing the guidance in order to stimulate the U.S. economy. 

“We’ll look at where we are, and we’ll evaluate based on our health experts what steps might be possible,” Pence continued. 

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The vice president noted that the guidelines, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE unveiled one week ago, were meant to flatten the curve of the spread of the coronavirus domestically.

Pence also said the federal government would issue guidance later Monday aimed at helping workers in critical sectors return to work after being exposed to COVID-19 if they don’t have symptoms of the virus.

Pence’s remarks came after Trump tweeted overnight that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” and retweeted a number of supporters calling for Americans to get back to work amid the outbreak. The tweets were seen as a signal the president may be leaning toward easing the recommendations in order to help stem the economic damage.

The pandemic has taken a considerable toll on the economy, shuttering businesses and spurring mass layoffs across the country. 

Trump last week recommended Americans avoid restaurants and bars, limit in-person gatherings to 10 people or fewer, and bypass nonessential travel for 15 days in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. The guidelines were described as a trial, and officials signaled they would evaluate them following the two-week period. 

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Separately, state and local officials have ordered closures of schools, businesses and other public gatherings in order to reduce the spread of the virus, restrictions that in some areas are expected to last weeks or months.

The decision about how quickly to reduce the federal guidelines has been a source of debate among those in and around the administration, with some arguing they should be relaxed after 15 days to help people in areas that have been less impacted by the virus return to work.

A move to relax the recommendations after the 15-day mark passes would likely put Trump at odds with public health experts who have advocated for Americans to practice social distancing for a longer period of time.

The number of coronavirus cases has exceeded 40,000 in the United States, marking a large increase over the past several days.