President Donald Trump suggested Monday that he wants to urge businesses to reopen — sooner rather than later — while the government works to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“At some point we’re going to open up our country, and it will be fairly soon,” Trump said during an evening press briefing on the fast-spreading virus.
Asked whether “soon” could be a matter of weeks or of months, Trump replied, “I’m not looking at months.”
The daily briefing at the White House came as U.S. officials at every level of government scrambled to rein in the spread of the coronavirus by implementing draconian emergency measures that threaten to cripple the economy.
Some administration officials have painted a harrowing portrait of the spread of COVID-19 in U.S. “hot spots” —especially New York City. Deborah Birx, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said at the briefing that data show the New York metro area has an “attack rate” five times higher than other areas of the country.
Birx would not directly say if she approved of Trump’s suggested plans to “reopen the country” when she was asked by a reporter. “We’re pulling all of the data pieces in now … I will never speculate on data. I will have to see the data to really understand it,” Birx said.
But Trump maintained that “we can do two things at one time.” He suggested that some states, such as Nebraska, with low numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases might be able to ease off their restrictions more quickly.
The president also seemed to try to play down the threat of the virus, which on Monday topped 43,000 cases and more than 500 deaths in the U.S.
He said his administration has done “really well” in handling the outbreak and noted that other things, such as the flu and car accidents, produce higher death rates every year without derailing society.
“You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than what we’re talking about,” Trump said. “It doesn’t mean we’re talking about telling people not to drive cars.”
Fears about the impact of the virus — and the consequences of the extreme measures being implemented to combat it — have sent stocks drastically lower over the past month. The Dow Jones industrial average, for instance, closed Monday at its lowest level since November 2016, when Trump was elected president.
Some state leaders have forced nonessential businesses to shut down, prohibited large gatherings and ordered residents to stay in their homes. The White House issued a list of guidelines earlier this month for Americans to follow for 15 days, which call on people to sharply limit their normal behaviors when it comes to eating out, shopping and socializing.
On Sunday night, Trump tweeted, in all caps, that “at the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”
The prescriptions in the White House guidelines are meant to promote so-called social distancing practices that can slow or prevent transmission of the disease — but are likely to have dire consequences for markets, employers and workers.
“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump said at the presser.
The president’s own business empire also stands to suffer from the virus, as well: Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s oceanside resort in Palm Beach, Fla., temporarily shuttered its doors in the peak of its season out of coronavirus concerns.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have passed multiple bills providing emergency funds to combat the spread of the disease and soften the blow for the millions of affected Americans. But the largest stimulus package, which is expected to cost well over $1 trillion, has hit roadblocks in Congress as Republicans and Democrats lock horns over what should be included.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her caucus would unveil a $2.5 trillion-plus legislative package that includes direct payments to individuals of $1,500 and up to $7,500 for a family of five.