President Donald Trump on Monday asked Americans to follow new guidelines to fight the COVID-19 outbreak for the next 15 days and suggested the nation may be dealing with the virus until “July or August.”
The new recommendations take “social distancing” to new levels by suggesting that people avoid social gatherings of groups of more than 10 people and that everyone stay home if one person in a household is infected. The recommendations urge all older Americans to stay home but also ask young and healthy Americans to “do your part to stop the spread of the coronavirus” by avoiding eating or drinking at restaurants.
“We will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus,” Trump said. “We can turn the corner and turn it quickly.”
The guidelines are not mandatory and leave decisions to businesses and to governors.
Like previous advisories, the new guidelines do not recommend closing all public schools, but that “governors of states with evidence of community transmission should close schools in affected and surrounding areas.”
In previous guidance, the CDC noted that short to medium — or two- to four-week — school closures did not seem to affect the curve of an outbreak’s spread, but did endanger the elderly in multi-generational families and affect the ability of health care workers.
‘An agonizing decision’
Over the weekend, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered that all state public, private and charter schools shutter “at a minimum until April 6.”
“I know school closures are tough,” medical ethicist Arthur Caplan told the Review-Journal, but “pandemic viruses don’t respect localities; they need rules at the national level to control them.”
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten supported such moves.
“Closing schools is an agonizing decision, but, with caveats, it’s the inevitable and correct one in the midst of this unprecedented national emergency,” Weingarten said.
Speaking of Trump, Caplan said, “He’s finally getting on the ball.”
“He’s also trying to tell his supporters, you should take this seriously,” Caplan added, instead of suggesting the outbreak might be a left-wing plot.
Without providing details, Trump said, “we’re going to back the airlines 100 percent,” a note of reassurance for an industry crippled by travel bans and fears of spreading the virus.
Asked what the administration is thinking of doing to help out Las Vegas and other tourist destinations hit hard by the outbreak, a White House official said that on Tuesday Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “are expected to meet with tourism industry executives, including hotel chains, theme parks, and travel associations. … The President will discuss the federal government’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19 and ways the Administration can continue to partner with the industry to keep Americans safe and healthy.”
Talks with governors
Trump spent Monday morning on video teleconference calls with G-7 leaders and governors to discuss measures to curb the outbreak. After the G-7 call, Canada closed its borders to most nonresidents, but not Americans.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced closures of public schools, restaurants, bars and casinos in the Empire State, New Jersey and Connecticut as he faulted the administration for leaving decisions in the hands of state and local authorities.
The New York Times reported that Trump surprised some governors when he told them, “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves.”
“We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves,” he added. “Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Trump argued that if governors get masks and other personal protective equipment themselves, they should be able to get what they need sooner.
Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir noted that a shortage of personal protective equipment has delayed testing because health care workers need the right masks and other equipment to administer tests to those who might be infected with COVID-19.
During a press conference in Albany, Cuomo complained about a lack of emergency actions to help state and local governments treat individuals who are infected. “This is a national pandemic and there are no national rules,” Cuomo said.
“That’s a really irresponsible thing for an official to say,” said James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He said the system is designed to push decision-making to local authorities who know where best to concentrate resources, as opposed to instituting a “one-size-fits-all rule.”
Over the weekend, the White House began taking the temperature of “any individuals who are in close contact with the President and Vice President,” Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
Aides also took the temperatures of journalists and downsized the number who could participate in daily White House press briefings conducted by the president’s coronavirus task force.
To observe the 50-person limit, the White House Correspondents Association reduced the number of reporters to 25 who can sit in the 49-seat room, advised against standing in the room’s aisles and urged reporters without seats to work from home.
In a memo to the WHCA, press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the seat change was “temporary.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.