Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

President Trump declared Monday that he has “total” authority and “calls the shots” when it comes to deciding how and when to lift the pandemic restrictions and reopen the economy, even as governors on both coasts proceeded with their own plans and asserted their own powers.

The contrary approaches hinted at what could become a fractured response from state and federal officials in the coming weeks and months, marked by disagreements over who has the authority to dictate when, whether and how to begin the nation’s slow return to normalcy.

“The authority of the president of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total,” Trump said, adding, “The president of the United States calls the shots.”

He also suggested that if a governor declined to go along, he or she would pay a price. “If some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for election,” Trump said.

That was not the view of two groups of governors, one on the East Coast and one on the West, who announced Monday they were forming multistate committees to explore how and when to lift the restrictions.

Asked at a news conference whether state leaders should maintain control over that process, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said, “Seeing as how we had the responsibility to close the state down, I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”

After the president’s remarks, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called in to CNN and suggested Trump was acting like “a king.”

“We don’t have a king, we have an elected president,” Cuomo (D) told host Erin Burnett.

Cuomo said he would challenge the White House in court if Trump pushes to reopen businesses without enough safeguards to protect public health.

Earlier in the day, Cuomo was joined via phone by governors from New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island as they formed a pact to coordinate on an eventual end to their states’ restrictions. Later, Cuomo announced that Massachusetts, led by Gov. Charlie Baker (R), was joining the group.

“Everyone is very anxious to get out of the house, get to work and get the economy moving. Everyone agrees with that, but the art form here is going to be doing that smartly, doing that productively, and doing that in a coordinated way,” Cuomo said.

“This has to be informed by experts and by data,” he added. “You take one step forward, you see how it works, and then you measure the next step.”

On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington also announced a pact to work together to tamp down the ongoing outbreak and carefully restart the economy in their states.

“Covid-19 doesn’t follow state or national boundaries,” the three governors said in a statement. “It will take every level of government, working together, and a full picture of what’s happening on the ground.”

Underlining the sharp political and cultural divide that has undergirded the nation’s reaction to the pandemic, nine of the 10 governors involved in the two groups are Democrats.

In contrast, Trump is facing increasing pressure from some conservative activists to reopen the economy, arguing that the sustained economic downturn could do more damage to Americans by destroying their livelihoods, and that there are safe ways to get the economy going.

Trump again Monday insisted it is up to him, not the governors, to decide when to “open up the states.” The White House is assembling its own internal task force on how to do so.

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government,” Trump, who had once hoped to have the economy “raring to go” by Easter, tweeted on Monday. “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect. It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”

Still, Trump added that he is “working closely with governors,” and expects that to continue. “A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!” he wrote.

Later, Trump said at a White House press briefing that his administration is “very close” to a plan to restart the economy. “We want to have our country open. We want to return to normal life,” he said.

The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Governors typically have authority to lift the stay-at-home restrictions and business closures in their states. But if Trump calls for the economy to reopen, many ordinary Americans, as well as some GOP governors, may heed his exhortations.

Even as the debate gathered steam on Monday, the coronavirus outbreak itself clearly remained far from over.

New York recorded its 10,000th official death from the virus, and fatalities around the nation climbed beyond 23,000. The country now has more than a half-million confirmed cases of covid-19, and while the number of new cases has leveled off in recent days, tens of thousands of new infections are still reported daily.

Public health experts, including some in the administration, have repeatedly cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen the shuttered U.S. economy, warning that the president’s goal of resuming some activities by May 1 might not prove realistic.

“It is a target, and obviously we’re hopeful about that target, but I think it’s just too early to be able to tell that we see light at the end of the tunnel,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said over the weekend on ABC News’s “This Week.”

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Easter Sunday that the return to normalcy would not happen all at once.

“It is not going to be a light switch,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “. . . It is going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak you’ve already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced.”

China’s experience highlights how halting and precarious the transition can be. Some companies there have begun the process of restarting production, but the process has proved expensive and slow.

Meanwhile, China on Monday reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases since early March, most involving people returning from other countries. That heightened fears of a second wave of the outbreak — a scenario public health experts have repeatedly warned about should a country reopen too quickly.

Distributing face masks and imploring employees to wash their hands count among the more uncertain methods for ensuring safety, experts say. But these are largely the methods that Chinese companies have been relying on as they have ramped back up — and American businesses may have few better options.

In the United States, businesses from small manufacturers to major brands such as Whirlpool and retailing giant Amazon are taking steps to get their workers back on the job. Much of the challenge involves putting in place reliable testing on a large scale.

Governments and companies face a difficult choice in coming weeks: They can either reopen with layers of stifling and expensive hygiene controls, or return to work with fewer controls and accept the risk of second-wave infections. No silver bullet exists against further community spread, yet the global economy cannot sustain a lockdown until a vaccine is developed, which could take a year or longer.

An array of countries are wrestling with that precise challenge.

In Spain, thousands of construction, factory and office workers, along with others in some nonessential businesses, went back to work, ending a two-week “hibernation” in a country where covid-19 has claimed more than 17,400 lives. But bars, restaurants, hotels, sports centers, shops and leisure venues remained closed.

Italy announced 3,153 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since April 7, bringing the total number of cases in the hard-hit country to 159,516.

But at a news conference in Rome, officials warned that although the lower numbers were good news, it was still uncertain when normal life could resume. “At the moment, any hypothesis about reopening is premature,” said Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Agency, according to the news agency ANSA.

And France extended its lockdown for a month, until at least May 11.

In the United States, there were fresh reminders of just how far the nation remains from anything resembling its pre-pandemic routine.

The Supreme Court announced that for the first time ever, it would hold oral arguments via teleconference next month. “In keeping with public health guidance in response to covid-19, the justices and counsel will all participate remotely,” the court said in a news release.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that the chamber would delay its return to legislative session until early next month, and possibly longer if public health experts recommend against bringing the lawmakers back to Washington for a full session.

In New York, Cuomo sketched out a vision of what reopening the state might look like: easing isolation restrictions, increasing economic activity and adjusting the definition of “essential” workers.

Cuomo said that once officials begin the reopening process, the infection rate will dictate whether the actions grow more robust or are dialed back. “If you see that infection rates start ticking up, which would be undermining everything we have accomplished thus far, then you know you’ve opened the valve too fast,” he said.

Eva Dou, John Wagner, Kim Bellware, Robert Costa, Jeff Stein, Felicia Sonmez, Paul Kane, Pamela Rolfe, Dan Lamothe, Robert Barnes, Anne Gearan, William Booth and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.