WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump says he wants the nation “opened up and just raring to go by Easter” — a date just more than two weeks away that few health experts believe will be sufficient in containing the spread of coronavirus.
At an afternoon press conference with the White House task force, he said, “ultimately the goal is to ease the guidelines and open things up to very large sections of our country as we near the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy. We’re going for a while, but we win, we win. I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter, 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.”
“I give it two weeks,” Trump said earlier today at a FOX town hall, suggesting he was ready to phase out his 15-day self-isolating guidelines when they expire. “I guess by Monday or Tuesday, it’s about two weeks. We will assess at that time and give it more time if we need a little more time. We have to open this country up.”
But Trump said Monday that the health experts on his task force do not necessarily agree with his hope for a quick return to their jobs to boost the economy. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, are also sounding the alarm.
“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, tweeted Tuesday.
Trump’s new Easter goal — to have the country back to normal by Sunday, April 12 — came hours after the New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the state is expecting a height of coronavirus infections to come in two to three weeks.
In a separate Fox News interview later Tuesday, the President provided a little more reasoning behind his timeline.
“So, I think Easter Sunday, and you’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline that I think is right,” he said.
The administration’s social distancing guidelines recommend against gatherings of more than 10 people, and many places of worship have adapted with online services.
Trump did concede he wasn’t sure if that timing — just 19 days from now — would work.
“It gives us more chance to work on what we’re doing, and I’m not sure that’s going to be the day, but I would love to aim it right at Easter Sunday, so we’re open for church service and services generally on Easter Sunday,” he said. “That would be a beautiful thing.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves as the White House coronavirus coordinator, was asked during the town hall whether she thinks an Easter deadline is realistic.
“A lot of what we’ve done is tackle this epidemic the way people said we should have tackled the flu in 1918,” Birx responded, adding that the President has asked the task force to use these two weeks “to get all the data from around the country.”
She also reasserted that “every American needs to continue the President’s guidelines for these next six or seven days.”
Despite announcing the new guidelines under the banner “The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America,” Trump seemed to distance himself from the practices during the town hall.
“Somehow, the word got out that this is the thing we are supposed to be doing,” he said, noting the country had “never done a thing like this before.”
“But we had to do it. It’s been very painful for our country and very destabilizing,” he said.
As his advisers prepare options for returning the country to work, Trump suggested that Americans would still be able to exercise good health practices while still returning to normal.
“We have to go back to work much sooner than people thought,” he said.
Trump again compared coronavirus to the flu and auto accidents, despite warnings from his health advisers that such analogies make little sense.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” he said, adding: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents.”
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said comparing coronavirus to auto accidents was a “false equivalency” and said it was important to “face the fact” that coronavirus is more lethal than the flu.