WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR/AP) — President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force held a briefing Friday to update the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out a phased approach to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.
“We are not going to open all at once,” Trump said during his Thursday briefing.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors earlier Thursday, according to an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press. “We’re going to be standing alongside of you.”
The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations. They make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phased gradual reopening of businesses and schools — each phase lasting at least 14 days — to ensure that infections don’t accelerate again.
In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.
In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing where possible and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.
Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on the identification and isolation of any new infections.
Trump on Thursday released a plan to ease business restriction that hinges on a downward trajectory of positive tests.
But more than a month after he declared, “Anybody who wants a test, can get a test,” the reality has been much different. People report being unable to get tested. Labs and public officials say critical supply shortages are making it impossible to increase testing to the levels experts say is necessary to keep the virus in check.
“There are places that have enough test swabs, but not enough workers to administer them. There are places that are limiting tests because of the CDC criteria on who should get tested,” said Dr. Megan Ranney an emergency doctor and associate professor at Brown University. “There’s just so many inefficiencies and problems with the way that testing currently happens across this country.”
Trump’s plan envisions setting up “sentinel surveillance sites” that would screen people without symptoms in locations that serve older people or minority populations. Experts say testing would have to increase as much as threefold to be effective.
The plan pushes responsibility for testing onto states.
“You know, the federal government shouldn’t be forced to go and do everything, ,” Trump told reporters Thursday.
But state and local officials as well as lab managers say they cannot expand testing until there are more supplies.
This week governors, physician groups and laboratory directors called on the Trump administration to address shortages of swabs, protective gear and highly specialized laboratory chemicals needed to analyze the virus’ genetic material. Hospitals and state health departments report scouring the globe to secure orders, competing against each other and their peers abroad in a system that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., described as “mayhem.”
“The federal government cannot wipe their hands of this and say, ‘Oh, the states are responsible for testing,’” Cuomo said Friday as he complained of a shortage of chemicals manufactured in China. “I don’t do China relations. I don’t do international supply chain.”
Trump has denied that the U.S. has fallen short, asserting that the U.S. has the “most expansive and accurate testing system anywhere in the world.” Only in recent days has the U.S. surpassed the rate of testing in South Korea, which has conducted about one test for every 100 people. Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Monday that if governors “would simply activate” underused high-capacity testing machines, “we could double the amount of testing in the U.S. literally overnight.”