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White House Could End 'Slow the Spread' Coronavirus Guidelines

President Trump signaled that he was considering lifting the public health guidelines at the end of the 15-day period on March 30 due to the severe economic impacts caused by containment strategies despite mounting deaths caused by the pandemic.
March 24, 2020, 12pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Donald Trump
Evan El-Amin

On Monday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned, "I want America to understand this week it's going to get bad." He was "speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to stop the coronavirus from infecting more people in the U.S.," reported Bill Chappell for NPR.

Adams also urged people to stay home to prevent the respiratory virus from spreading — and he said too many people in New York and other states are ignoring guidance to observe social distancing and avoid close contacts with others.

However, his boss has been rethinking the merits of advising people to stay home to contain the infectious disease that has claimed 535 American lives as of March 23. What's at stake is the fate of "The President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America [pdf]", a 2-page advisory document issued March 16 entitled, "15 Days to Slow the Spread," recommending that people work and engage in school from home and "avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people." It does not mention social distancing, which is noted on the website, coronavirus.gov.

"President Trump on Sunday night said that the government would reassess the recommended period for keeping businesses shut and millions of workers at home after this week, amid millions of job losses caused by the efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus," reported Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger for the New York Times.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Mr. Trump tweeted in all capital letters shortly before midnight. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

On Monday evening, March 23, during the daily White House news conference of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, he confirmed Adam's warning but then continued along the lines of his midnight tweet. 

"America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” Trump said. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

"As he watches stock prices plummet and braces for an expected surge in unemployment, Trump has received urgent pleas from rattled business leaders, Republican lawmakers and conservative economists imploring him to remove some of the stringent social distancing guidelines that he put in place for a 15-day period ending March 30, according to several people with knowledge of the internal deliberations," report Philip RuckerJeff SteinJosh Dawsey and Ashley Parker for The Washington Post (source article).

The various arguments, which are gaining traction across the political right, can be boiled down to this: No matter how many people may lose their lives to the coronavirus, many millions more stand to lose their jobs and face ruin if the economy does not reopen.

Lives or livelihood

In short, it would appear that this is a conflict between the two crises caused by COVID-19: public health and the economy, perhaps best illustrated by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's justification of the emergency "stay-at-home" disaster proclamation that shut down non-essential businesses on Saturday evening.

"I fully recognize I am choosing between saving people's lives and saving people's livelihoods," Pritzker said on Saturday, "but ultimately you can't have a livelihood if you don't have a life."

That view was not shared by the president's top economic advisor. “The President is right, the cure can’t be worse than the disease, and we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs,” said Larry Kudlow on Monday on Fox News. “I spoke with the President about this very subject late last evening, so we’ll be looking at a number of different things. Let’s give it another week.”

Almost a month earlier, Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, had famously claimed that the outbreak had been contained.

“We have contained this. I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight,” said Kudlow. On Monday, as the coronavirus infection rate increases exponentially, Kudlow admitted an error in that assessment.

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Published on Monday, March 23, 2020 in The Washington Post
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