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Trump Calls for U.S. to Be Open ‘by Easter’
New York Times Updated March 24, 2020, 3:58 p.m.
New York, now the center of the outbreak in America, braces for a flood of patients.
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence confer before a Fox News town hall in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York Times
Trump expressed outrage at having to ‘close the country’ to curb the spread of the virus.
Even as nations from Britain to India declare nationwide economic lockdowns, President Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter,” less than three weeks away, a goal that top health professionals have called far too quick.
“I think it’s possible, why not?” he said with a shrug.
Participating in a town hall hosted by Fox News on Tuesday, he expressed outrage about having to “close the country” to curb the spread of the coronavirus and indicated that his guidelines on business shutdowns and social distancing would soon be lifted.
“I gave it two weeks,” he said, adding, “We can socially distance ourselves and go to work.”
Both Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said that a lockdown had never been under consideration for the United States. Mr. Pence told viewers that talk of it was misinformation that has circulated online.
“I can tell you that at no point has the White House coronavirus task forcediscussed a nationwide lockdown,” he said, answering a question from a viewer on the phone.
Mr. Trump fell back on his comparison of the coronavirus to the flu, saying that despite losing thousands of people to the flu, “We don’t turn the country off.”
He also said that more people die of automobile accidents, but nobody forces car companies to stop manufacturing vehicles.
States including California, Maryland, Illinois and Washington have declared stay-at-home or shutdown orders, but other states have been looking for directives from the Trump administration. And countries in Asia are beginning to see a resurgence of coronavirus after easing up on restrictions.
For governors and mayors who have been trying to educate people about the urgent need to stay home and maintain social distance, Mr. Trump’s recent statements suggesting that such measures may be going too far threatened to make their jobs more difficult.
“Some of the messaging is pretty confusing,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who moved this week to close nonessential businesses in his state, said in an interview Tuesday morning on CNN, before the president announced his new Easter goal, when he was asked about the Mr. Trump’s talk in recent days of relaxing social distancing guidelines. “I think it’s not just it doesn’t match with what we’re doing here in Maryland. Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn’t match.”
Mr. Hogan, the chairman of the bipartisan National Governors Association, said that health officials suggest that the virus’s peak could be weeks or months away. “We’re just trying to take the best advice that we can from the scientists and all the experts, and making the decisions that we believe are necessary for our states,” he said.
As the town hall meeting was getting underway Tuesday, three leading medical and health organizations urged Americans to stay home to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are honored to serve and put our lives on the front line to protect and save as many lives as possible,” the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association wrote in an open letter. “But we need your help.”
But the president and vice president were resolute that they want the country reopened. Mr. Pence said the administration’s timeline for trying to get businesses restarted and workers out of their homes was shorter than the period that health experts have said would be necessary to flatten the curve.
“We’ll focus on our most vulnerable, but putting America back to work will also be a priority, in weeks not months,” Mr. Pence said.
Mr. Trump struck a remarkably different tone from other world leaders. In Italy, which has more coronavirus deaths than any other country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Tuesday that he was raising the fines on people who defy the lockdown order.
He also said two malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for off-label use treating patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The F.D.A. did not immediately confirm that assertion, but two administration health officials said it was not true.
The White House had teamed up with the computer technology giant Oracle to promote the drugs, which Mr. Trump has touted repeatedly, even before the government approved their use for the outbreak, according to five senior administration officials and others familiar with the plans.
Given a microphone for nearly two hours, Mr. Trump also used a town hall on Fox News for politics. Within moments of going live, he went after his likely foe in November, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
He referred to him as “Sleepy Joe” and claimed that Mr. Biden did not know what the word “xenophobic” meant when he criticized Mr. Trump’s approach to the spreading coronavirus.