Washington: Bracing the nation for a coronavirus death toll that could exceed 100,000 people, President Donald Trump extended restrictive social distancing guidelines till April 30, bowing to public health experts who presented him with even more dire projections for the expanding coronavirus pandemic, reports AP.
It was a stark shift in tone by the President, who only days ago mused about the country reopening by Easter. From the Rose Garden on Sunday, he said his Easter revival hopes had only been “aspirational.”
The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expired Monday. The extension of the same for a month is a tacit acknowledgment that Trump was too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.
Trump’s impulse to reopen the country met a sober reality check Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who said the U.S. could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic.
Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had social distancing measures not been put in place. And he said the country would be doing well if it “can hold” the number of deaths “down to 100,000.” He said the best case for the country would be for the death rate to peak in about two weeks.
“It’s a horrible number,” Trump said, but added, “We all together have done a very good job.”
Brought forward by Trump at the outdoor briefing, Dr Fauci said his projection of a potential 100,000 to 200,000 deaths is “entirely conceivable” if not enough is done to mitigate the crisis.
Trump acknowledged that he may be forced to extend the guidelines again at the end of April, but expressed hope that by June 1, “we should be well on our way to recovery.”
The federal guidelines recommend against group gatherings larger than 10 and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home. People are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel and shopping trips.
For more than a week, Trump had been bombarded by calls from outside business leaders who urged him to begin re-opening the nation’s economy and warned of catastrophic consequences that could damage his re-election chances if it remained shuttered for much longer.
“The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs,” Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow had said last Monday, reflecting the thinking of his economic team.
That talk alarmed health experts, who urged Trump to keep encouraging people to stay home. The virus was still spreading, with the peak still weeks away, the experts warned.
In the end, Trump, in the face of dire projections and increasingly alarming images out of New York, sided with his health experts and backed off the idea of loosening recommended restrictions on less impacted parts of the country.
“They’re the best in the profession and they didn’t like that idea,” he said of Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force.
Trump was clearly moved by the scenes from New York, particularly hard-hit Elmhurst Hospital in his native Queens.