Despite health experts urging against a rush back to normalcy, President Donald Trump and his allies have begun hinting they want to relax social distancing policies next week amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Late Sunday night, Trump tweeted that he didn’t want the solution to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, to be “WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” His words, which echoed those of a Fox News host earlier that day, referred to social distancing policies that have closed schools and businesses and kept people inside instead of pumping money into the economy.
He echoed the same message at a Monday evening press conference. “America will again and soon be open for business, very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months, as somebody was suggesting,” he said. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
Trump issued stricter guidelines last Monday when he told Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to stay away from various public places for at least the next 15 days ― from March 16 to March 30. When that period ends next Monday, the president is apparently eager to loosen the restrictions in hopes of boosting the now flagging economy ― the success of which had been one of the biggest selling points of Trump’s reelection campaign.
The president pointed to the viral videos of spring breakers in Florida ignoring the social distancing guidelines as justification for relaxing them, a source close to the White House told CNN.
“What’s the point of social distancing if 20% ignore the order?” Trump has asked his aides, according to the source. His senior advisers are reportedly beating the same drum even as multiple public health experts warn it’s too soon to ease off drastic measures.
“I don’t know anybody in the building who is arguing that we should keep going the way we’re going,” a senior White House official told CNN. “Everybody here is pulling in the same direction.”
Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, made the rounds on cable news Monday morning pushing that narrative. “The president is right,” he said on Fox News. “The cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs.” Later on CNBC, he said, “At some point, you have to ask yourself whether the shutdown is doing more harm than good.”
Kudlow’s previous messaging on the coronavirus was not always informed by information from public health officials. In late February, he insisted that the U.S. had “contained” the outbreak “pretty close to air-tight.” But earlier that day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans that the virus was spreading throughout the country.
With the 15-day mark fast approaching, Trump is weighing changing the social distancing guidelines so that they apply only to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, an administration official told The Wall Street Journal.
That approach disregards an important aspect of how the coronavirus is likely spreading: Modeling shows that young, healthy people are the most likely to spread the disease to vulnerable people, who already tend not to move around as much.
But Trump’s allies in conservative media are backing him up. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham posted a lengthy Twitter thread on Monday morning dismissing the value of medical professionals’ advice in setting social distancing guidelines.
“Doctors provide medical treatment and cures—they should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days,” she wrote.
Ingraham also pushed the idea of only some people isolating themselves, writing: “The most vulnerable population must be socially distanced until we are over this. Churches should organize concerts outside senior living centers.”
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