President Donald Trump is extending the voluntary national shutdown for a month as sickness and death from the coronavirus pandemic rise in the United States.
The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires Monday and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. But instead he decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he’d been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.
Trump’s impulse to restore normalcy 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’s decision to extend the guidelines reflected a recognition that the struggle will take place over the longer haul.
The federal guidelines recommend against large group gatherings 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.
The extension would leave the federal recommendations in place beyond Easter on April 12, by which time Trump had hoped the country and its economy could start to rev up again. Alarmed public-health officials said Easter was sure to be too soon.
The U.S. had more than 137,000 COVID-19 cases reported by late Sunday afternoon, with more than 2,400 deaths.
Earlier Fauci told CNN: “I would say between 100,000 and 200,000 cases,” then corrected himself to say he meant deaths. “We’re going to have millions of cases.” But he added, “I don’t want to be held to that” because the pandemic is “such a moving target.”
One in three Americans remain under state or local government orders to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus, with schools and businesses closed and public life upended.
Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force, said parts of the country with few cases so far must prepare for what’s to come. “No state, no metro area, will be spared,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems. Hospitals in the most afflicted areas are straining to handle patients and some are short of critical supplies.
Fauci’s prediction would take the death toll well past that of the average seasonal flu. Trump repeatedly cited the flu’s comparatively much higher cost in lives in playing down the severity of this pandemic.
Trump had eyed a “reopening” of the U.S. economy by Easter, April 12, but in recent days medical professionals have warned that would be far too soon for the nation’s heavily affected urban areas.
Just on Saturday, Trump was discussing tightening restrictions, suggesting then backing away from an “enforceable” quarantine of hard-hit New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Instead, the White House task force recommended a travel advisory for residents of those states to limit non-essential travel to slow the spread of the virus to other parts of the U.S.