After boasting his "total" authority in reopening the United States, President Trump deferred plans to reopen to governors

By Sean Neumann
April 16, 2020 09:01 PM
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Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Days after claiming he had the “total” authority to reopen the United States on his own, Donald Trump reversed his position on Thursday and deferred that responsibility back to the state governors who always had that power from the start.

The federal government announced new guidelines that states can use to gradually reopen on a state-by-state basis over the coming months. The announcement came Thursday at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing, while the president informed governors of the new guidelines on a conference call earlier in the afternoon.

States will soon gradually start reopening their economies in a step-by-step process that will likely take months. In some states, like New York and New Jersey, where the virus has a devastating impact, that process will take longer than those states, like Montana or Wyoming, that have a more sparse population and have seen small numbers of confirmed cases.

“We are not opening all at once but one careful step at a time,” Trump, 73, told reporters Thursday, adding that he estimates somewhere around “29 states” are already at a safe enough point where they can begin phasing into the reopening process.

The new federal guidelines encourage individual U.S. states and territories to follow a three-phase process in reopening their economies, allowing people back to work, and returning to what coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx called Thursday “our new normal.”

President Donald Trump (center) speaks to reporters at Thursday’s daily coronavirus press briefing
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

States will still ultimately be in control of how and when they will reopen.

The new guidelines recommend that states not begin reopening unless three criteria are met: a 14-day decrease in reported coronavirus and flu-like illnesses, a downward trajectory in COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period and hospitals are able to treat all patients without crisis care and a “robust testing system” is in place for at-risk healthcare workers.

Those phases will eventually allow states to send people back to work, gradually reopen bars and restaurants and fill stadiums and concert halls — but health officials were blunt in reminding Americans that this process won’t be like a flip of a light switch and that it will take time and patience.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading medical voice on the government’s coronavirus response team, warned states that completing the guideline phases doesn’t mean that’s the end of their efforts in combating the coronavirus while there’s still no cure.

“Even if you are in Phase One, Two, or Three, it’s not, ‘Okay, game over.’ It’s not,” Fauci said. “It’s going to be a way that we protect ourselves, because as we know, it may very well be as we go the cycle around that there will be this virus that comes back to us. I think we’ll be able to handle that.”

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At the same time, President Trump said some states can begin reopening “literally by tomorrow” — referencing low-populated and low-hit areas of the country, not highly populated metro areas like New York City or Chicago.

Trump also reminded that social distancing guidelines and health experts’ recommendations are still in place for those areas that will start to reopen in the coming weeks: Health officials say people should still wear masks in public no matter where they are in the country and that people will still be asked to avoid gathering in public.

There’s still a long road ahead, public officials warned Thursday, but gradually each state will reopen when governors and local officials deem they are ready.

“I don’t want anyone coming back who isn’t in the position to come back,” Trump said, adding, “We want them to come back when they’re ready.”

At least 30,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States and more than 662,000 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported, according to the New York Times.

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