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WASHINGTON — Signaling his growing impatience at the measures his own administration has put in place in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump said he hoped the nation would return to normal activity by Easter, which this year falls on April 12.
That suggests that the stay-at-home guidance issued by his own coronavirus task force will be lifted sooner than most public health professionals believe is appropriate. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said Tuesday during what was billed as a Fox News coronavirus town hall with the president and other members of the task force, including Vice President Mike Pence.
Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. As such, using that day as a marker for returning to work, and opening restaurants and other businesses, could bear obvious significance to many Americans.
But it could also be too early.
China, for example, is only now lifting parts of Hubei province, where the virus originated, from strict lockdown provisions. Those provisions were in place for two months, during which time they were strictly enforced by the authoritarian regime in Beijing.
As a free and open society, the United States could hardly execute and enforce the kinds of restrictive practices that helped China climb out of the depths of the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 15-day directive that called for people to minimize social interaction and stay home when possible.
Some states that have been hit hard by the virus, including California and New York, have essentially issued stay-in-place orders, and there is little Trump could do to force them to lift those mandates. At the same time, Republican governors allied with Trump could come to embrace Easter as the endpoint of their own efforts.
That would potentially have the effect of turning the United States into a public health patchwork, one where people living only a few miles apart are taking radically different precautions.
Trump appears to have come to the conclusion that even if some people die because precautions are relaxed, the economic devastation caused by a lockdown nation could be even worse. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu,” he told Fox News from the Rose Garden. “We don’t turn the country off.”
This was a repeat of what he’d said at Monday’s coronavirus briefing, when he compared deaths from the coronavirus to flu and car accident fatalities.
Public health officials may not have cheered Trump’s change in thinking, which comes only days after he’d described the fight against the coronavirus as a wartime effort requiring focus and sacrifice. But the stock market reacted with optimism, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 1,600 points as trading was coming to a close (that, however, may have reflected the nearing realization of a massive Senate coronavirus stimulus package).
Just how seriously Trump’s timeline will be taken remains unclear. Shortly after his interview with Fox News concluded, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said that public health must remain the primary focus of government efforts.
“The truth is that protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one depends on the other. We save our economy by first saving lives,” DeWine tweeted.
“And we have to do it in that order.”
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