President Donald Trump has set a goal of April 12 — Easter Sunday — for restarting the economy, stating that he’d like to see “packed churches all over our country.” In a briefing on Tuesday, the president said that he was already looking towards easing the advisories that have sidelined workers and led to an economic slowdown.
State governors, who have continued to impose more restrictions in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, aren’t as optimistic. Both Republicans and Democrats, who are either struggling with the outbreak or bracing for it, are apprehensive about Trump’s Easter time frame for reopening the U.S. economy. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who heads the National Governors Association, stated that the White House was running on a schedule made up of some “imaginary clock.” He called their messaging confusing as most state leaders are still focused on enforcing restrictions, not on easing them.
The governors’ reaction revealed a striking disconnect between the White House and the state leaders who’re closer to the front lines of the outbreak. In most cases, it’s these state leaders and not the federal government, who are responsible for both imposing and lifting the various restrictions that are meant to stop the disease.
The president, on the other hand, looked eager to get Americans back to work as the economy begins to wobble. According to Trump, the economic damage from the virus could be worse than the death toll. In addition, the president is planning to take another look at recommendations about business closures and social distancing as soon as next week. (Related: Major banks forced to close amid coronavirus outbreak.)
On Tuesday, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded for more federal help as the number of cases in the state surpassed 20,000 — with infection rates doubling every three days.
“I want to make a point on the president’s point about the economy and public health. I understand what the president is saying, this is unsustainable that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money. There is no doubt about that, no one is going to argue about that,” Cuomo said. “But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest. No American is going to say, ‘accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.’ Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth.”
“Job one has to be save lives. That has to be the priority,” he added.
Even Republican governors, including Trump’s usual allies, are continuing to move ahead with tighter restrictions on travel, mobility and commerce, regardless of what the president is saying. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey stated that public health needed to come first, while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stressed limiting business activity. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed the stay at home orders that have been issued throughout the state’s largest cities.
“This situation is not going to be over in a week,” said Noem, whose state has over two dozen cases. “We have another eight weeks until we see our peak infection rate.”
“Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn’t match,” added Hogan. “We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock.”
Not all state officials disagree with the White House. One of those who publicly endorsed Trump was Texas’ 69-year old lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who suggested Monday that people his age could “take care of ourselves” once Americans go back to work, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified people over 65 to be at higher risk for the disease.
Other officials working on the president’s coronavirus task force have pointed out that the Easter Sunday date isn’t set in stone. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that the schedule was “very flexible” and that they would look at a “day by day” metric of which areas are getting better.
The president himself stated that there was still room to adjust, depending on how the outbreak plays out. Trump also acknowledged that different areas of the country were hit worse than others, acknowledging that New York City was “a very hot spot.” He also stated that he would be looking at the “farm belt” sections out West, as well as rural areas in Texas. Trump also said that he would continue to consult with doctors and experts on the task force as Easter Sunday neared.
“We’ll only do it if it’s good and maybe we do sections of the country,” the president stated.