White House Considers a New Goal to Reopen US

The next several weeks could see businesses reboot on a 'rolling basis'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2020 11:18 AM CDT
Updated Apr 9, 2020 3:50 PM CDT
White House Considers a New Goal to Reopen US
President Trump listens as Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 1 in Washington.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When will the US get back to business? The simple question has a nuanced answer, but the White House appears to be aiming for at least a partial easing of the shutdown in a span that can be measured in weeks. "The next month or two, we should be able to restart, at least on a rolling basis," is how White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow put it on Fox Business Thursday afternoon, per CNN. Coverage:

  • New target? A report at Axios says "there's a lot of internal energy" in the White House toward the date of May 1. For one thing, that marks the end of the current "30 Days to Slow the Spread" federal advisory. The story, though, quotes White House officials as saying the decision will be driven by data, not arbitrary deadlines. Generally, though, political and economic aides are aiming for a quicker reopening than public health officials.
  • Or this: Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin said Thursday on CNBC that he thought businesses could get rolling again by the end of May, "as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues," reports the Wall Street Journal. Record jobless claims and disastrous economic forecasts were behind the impetus. "We need to have a plan nationally for reopening the economy," said Fed chief Jerome Powell on Thursday. "Most people expect that to happen in the second half of this year, after the second quarter, which of course ends on June 30.” He did not get more specific.

  • Barr speaks out: The attorney general suggested to Fox News Wednesday that the current "draconian" shutdown measures in place should be lifted next month, reports the Washington Post. "When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways—social distancing and other means—to protect themselves."
  • A signal: On Wednesday, the CDC issued guidelines aimed at getting "critical" workers who were exposed to the coronavirus back to work. The guidance says these workers should take their temperature before work, wear a face mask at all times, and leave immediately if they start feeling sick. The guidelines apply to health care workers, first responders, and employees in the food, energy, water, and communications sectors, among others. It's seen as an initial step in the White House push to gradually get people back to work, reports NPR.
  • What Trump says: "We’re looking at the concept where we open sections of the country, and we're also looking at the concept where you open up everything," Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday, per Fortune. Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told Fox News that the White House task force discussed the issue at length on Tuesday night. "You don't want to let up at a time that's premature," he said, but "it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like."
  • States/tests: Two wild cards are at play when it comes to easing the shutdown. Much discretion is up to governors in terms of lifting restrictions in their own states, and the Axios report says the White House will generally defer to them. The Fortune report cautions that widespread testing is seen as a crucial step toward any kind of reopening, and it notes that serious backlogs remain throughout the country when it comes to results.
  • In cycles: So what might this look like? In a New York Times op-ed, epidemiologist Gabriel Leung writes that "we must all prepare for several cycles of a 'suppress and lift' policy—cycles during which restrictions are applied and relaxed, applied again and relaxed again, in ways that can keep the pandemic under control but at an acceptable economic and social cost." The idea is to find a middle ground between total lockdown and phased-in reopening, all to buy time until a vaccine emerges. This will differ from country to country, and Leung spells out the health data that should inform government decisions.
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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