Fauci says Trump’s Easter goal for lifting coronavirus restrictions should be ‘flexible’

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said President Trump’s stated timeline for the lifting of restrictions on parts of the country by Easter Sunday should be “flexible.”

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a prominent member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, added it is important for public health officials to gauge how widespread coronavirus is in parts of the country that haven’t reported significant numbers of cases.

“That’s really very flexible,” Fauci told reporters at the White House when asked about the president’s timeline, which Trump floated earlier Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall on the coronavirus pandemic. 

“You can look at a date but you’ve got to be very flexible and on a literally day-by-day and week-by-week basis. You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you’re trying to do,” Fauci said. 

Fauci suggested regions with fewer cases may be able to ease guidelines urging people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and stay away from bars and restaurants before harder-hit areas. But he cautioned officials don’t have enough data to determine where those regions are.

Aggressive testing and subsequent isolation of individuals who are found to have the coronavirus can help keep the disease from spreading to parts of the country that have yet to see an outbreak, Fauci said.  

He acknowledged lifting restrictions does not make sense in an area like New York City, which has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. with hundreds of new cases each day. The New York metro area currently accounts for 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases domestically. 

“You may not want to essentially treat it as just one force for the entire country, but look at flexibility in different areas,” Fauci said. “So I think people might get the misinterpretation you’re just going to lift everything up. … That’s not going to happen. It’s going to be looking at the data. And what we don’t have right now that we really do need, is we need to know what’s going on in those areas of the country where there isn’t an obvious outbreak.” 

At the briefing Tuesday evening, Trump continued to push Easter as a possible date parts of the country could reopen in order to help stimulate the U.S. economy. The president insisted that “every decision we make is grounded solely in the health, safety and wellbeing of our citizens” and said he would listen to advice from health officials like Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and other advisers when making a decision. 

“I think that would be a great thing for our country and we’re all working very hard to make that a reality. We’ll be meeting with a lot of people to see if it can be done,” Trump said. 

Trump has prompted criticism from some public health experts for setting an arbitrary deadline for when the White House could lift federal recommendations on social distancing meant to mitigate the spread of the virus domestically. 

He has spoken optimistically about the prospect of returning the country to normal as cases spike significantly in the New York metro area, challenging the state’s health system and prompting federal officials to warn Tuesday that those who have left New York must self-quarantine for 14 days

The president argued that his administration could relax restrictions in areas of the United States that have not been significantly impacted by the virus, citing the farm belt and Texas as an example on Tuesday. 

“We can have large sections of the country open up,” Trump said. 

Trump said he arrived at the timeline in part because he thought it would be “beautiful” to have the country opened up by Easter. 

“I just thought it was a beautiful time,” Trump said. “It was based on a certain level of weeks from the time we started.”

Public health experts and some Republican lawmakers have been uneasy about the idea of rushing to boost a lagging economy before the virus is fully contained. They have warned of potentially catastrophic consequences, including a spike in infections and deaths that could lead to overrun hospitals, and argued the health of the nation should be the priority.

Tuesday marked Fauci’s first appearance in the briefing room alongside Trump since Friday. His absence prompted speculation about whether the president had grown unhappy with Fauci’s willingness to correct Trump when he offered inaccurate statements about potential therapy drugs, vaccine timelines and other issues.

Both men have denied there is any rift. Fauci in an interview with WMAL earlier Tuesday suggested the media was pitting the two against each other, while Trump described the doctor as “extraordinary” during a Fox News virtual town hall.

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