State governments continued Tuesday to chart differing paths for dealing with the coronavirus, with some stressing the importance of ongoing restrictions while others moved more quickly toward reopening economic and social activities, at times disregarding White House guidelines.
None has charted the sustained, 14-day “downward trajectory” outlined in federal guidelines issued last week.
President Trump, speaking at the daily White House virus briefing Tuesday, said that the guidelines were intended to give states the tools to initiate a gradual, “safe” reopening of the country.
But he stressed that they are not mandatory, saying governors “will need to make the decisions that are right for their particular state.”
Despite cautions raised by health experts, and bipartisan concerns expressed by a number of lawmakers, Trump said “there are areas” of the country “where you have vast amounts of area, where you have very few people and almost no people are infected, and those places will be looked on differently by a lot of governors.”
“I think you’ll be hearing a lot about reopening in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “Very dramatic steps taken, and very safely. We’re putting safety first.”
The guidelines stress that they are to be implemented on a “statewide or county-by-county basis at governors’ discretion.” In addition to a sustained reduction in confirmed cases, they also propose that hospitals are able to “treat all patients without crisis care,” and have a “robust testing” system in place before moving to what the guidelines call the Phase I reopening.
Trump also said he was halting immigration to the United States for 60 days, a move he described as intended to “help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs” as the economy reopens, and secondarily to “help conserve vital medical resources.” He said farm and some other temporary workers would be exempt from an executive order, which he first flagged in a Monday evening tweet, that will block green card recipients from moving here.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed a $484 billion measure to replenish a small-business loan program that ran out of money last week. The legislation, which is expected to be approved by the House on Thursday, also includes more money for coronavirus testing and hospitals. Trump said he would sign it into law.
In New York, where the coronavirus curve is “on its way down,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Tuesday that hospitals in some parts of the state will be allowed to resume elective procedures. While virus hospitalizations and intubations were moving downward, the number of New York deaths slightly increased on Monday over Sunday.
“Our definition of good has changed,” Cuomo told reporters at a briefing. “Good is now not terrible.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said restrictions there would continue, but he called for a massive city parade once the virus threat has passed. He has canceled several large, upcoming annual gatherings in the city, including June’s Gay Pride events.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee, originally scheduled to be held next month in Maryland, was also canceled Tuesday. Showcasing the country’s best young spellers, it has been held every year since 1925, with the exception of during World War II.
Some parts of the world saw case numbers and deaths slowly dropping. But the number of global infections and deaths overall continued to rise, with U.S. totals of more than 800,000 cases and 44,000 deaths.
In Britain, a new report from the Office for National Statistics suggested that the death toll is 41 percent higher — 13,141 in England and Wales — after adding those who died outside of hospitals. That number was previously excluded.
Global stocks continued to fall Tuesday, with the Dow Jones average dropping more than 600 points for the second day in a row as a glut in world oil supply continued to hammer crude prices.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization said the virus probably was not produced in a Chinese laboratory but originated in animals before appearing in China late last year.
“All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a news briefing.
The WHO did not address how the virus jumped from animals to humans or whether there was a possibility that it unintentionally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Some have suggested that poor safety procedures at the Chinese institute, where animals are studied, had allowed the virus to escape, perhaps into a “wet market” in Wuhan, where human infection is suspected to have emerged.
Earlier this month, Trump suspended funding to the WHO totaling up to $500 million a year, as part of his sparring with the United Nations health agency over its handling of the pandemic. Trump and other critics have accused the WHO of allowing China to withhold information about the virus’s spread and other information, although the aid suspension brought widespread international condemnation as counterproductive in the midst of the pandemic.
Chaib said the WHO is still assessing the impact of the aid halt but that its $4.8 billion, two-year budget was 81 percent funded as of the end of March.
In a survey released by the Pew Research Center, more than 7 in 10 Americans were found to have a negative view of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a significant increase from just a year ago, when 50 percent viewed Xi unfavorably.
Although negative views of China have outweighed positive views since 2012, they were up nearly 20 percentage points since the start of the Trump administration, coinciding with a trade war between Washington and Beijing as well as the virus.
Americans’ negative views of China and of Xi personally have increased even though the Chinese government has mounted a campaign to change international perceptions during the pandemic. Pew found a partisan split, with Republicans more likely to view the nation negatively than Democrats, and older Americans more likely to have unfavorable views than younger people.
Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, have criticized each other for mishandling relations with China.
Even as Trump has continued to call for a quick reopening of the U.S. economy, and protests against ongoing restrictions have spread to a number of states, most Americans — 54 percent — give the president negative marks for his handling of the outbreak, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
By contrast 72 percent of Americans give positive ratings to the governors of their states for the way they have dealt with the crisis, with workers also rating their employers positively.
As state governments continued to struggle with the balance between the economic needs of their constituents and the necessity to stop the spread of the virus, The Post poll indicated that most Americans expect no immediate easing of the health risks associated with the pandemic.
But a number of governors have responded to Trump’s call for a gradual opening of the country to begin sooner rather than later.
In Georgia, some mayors pushed back against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen parts of the state, voicing concerns that the move could endanger residents and overwhelm hospitals.
“I understand that the governor had a difficult decision to make,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said Tuesday on CNN. “I do, however, think he made the wrong decision.” Nearly 100 of more than 760 people who have died in Georgia have been in Dougherty County, where Albany is the county seat.
Kemp announced Monday that gyms, barbershops, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, among other businesses, would be allowed to reopen Friday, as long as some safety measures were maintained, and that theaters and dine-in restaurants can resume operations April 27.
A majority of businesses are expected to reopen in Tennessee and Ohio on May 1, although Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), speaking on NBC on Sunday, said it would be done “very, very carefully so we don’t get a lot of people killed.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a CBS interview broadcast Tuesday that he empathizes with “the need and desire for all of us to get back to work and some semblance of normalcy,” but he cautioned that he doesn’t see the “normalcy that many of us wish for happening any time soon.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has been criticized by Trump for what he has described as irrational and excessive restrictions, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that she and other governors had made “gut-wrenching decisions in the face of a threat unlike any we’ve seen before,” including closing schools “and to direct small business owners who have spent a lifetime building their businesses to close their doors.”
“I never imagined having to use the levers of my office this way to protect the people I serve,” she said, noting that she had partnered with DeWine and other regional governors to reopen the economy. Other partnerships have been formed by governors on the East and West coasts.
Cuomo said he planned, in a meeting with Trump later Tuesday, to discuss how to improve federal-state coordination on making virus testing available. Citing delays in the supply chain for testing materials such as swabs and reagents, the New York governor said that untangling supply issues was a job for the federal government.
Trump, who has said testing is a state responsibility, disputed that there were any problems and charged “some governors and the media” with a “complete failure to understand the scope of the testing abilities we’ve brought on line.”
“It’s going to be up to the states to use that capability,” he said. “Everything is perfect.”
John Wagner, Thomas Heath and Lateshia Beachum contributed to this report.
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