President Donald Trump unveiled guidelines on Thursday to begin reopening the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, a plan based on three gradual phases that will ultimately be up to governors to implement.
The plan was unveiled by the president during a press conference from the White House, despite concerns from some public health officials that lifting social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders too early would erase current efforts to slow its spread.
"We must have a working economy, and we want to get it back very, very quickly, and that's what's going to happen," Trump said, reading from prepared remarks. "I believe it will boom."
Under the proposed guidelines, Trump suggested several states would be able to start lifting restrictions "literally tomorrow," although he declined to say which states would be able to meet the criteria set by his administration. On Tuesday, the president suggested 29 states were in "extremely good shape."
"They will be able to go literally tomorrow because they've met all of the guidelines," he said Thursday.
The guidelines, passed on to governors during a phone call prior to the press conference, outlined a reopening of the country's businesses, schools, and other gathering places in phases, starting with regions with strong testing infrastructure for the virus and a decreasing number of COVID-19 infections.
In places where cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are down for 14 days, the guidelines call for lifting some stay-at-home restrictions. If the virus doesn't rebound, further restrictions may be lifted.
"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump said. "Some states will be able to open up sooner than others. Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in."
The final decisions on how to open up communities, however, would rest with the governors of each state, a shift from what Trump said just days earlier. The president had seemingly threatened governors, who he suggested were involved in a sort of "mutiny" over their plans to open up their states under their terms.
But in outlining the new guidelines on Thursday, Trump took on a different tone.
"Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states," he said. "If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that. If they believe it's time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task and very quickly, depending on what they want to do."
Under the White House guidelines, once infection rates begin to decrease and testing is widely available, some regions would begin a three-step plan to gradually reopen businesses, schools, and other services that have been shuttered during the pandemic.
In phase 1, people should continue to work from home if possible and avoid groups of 10 or more if social distancing can't be maintained. But the guidelines also allow for movie theaters, churches, and sports venues to reopen if they follow social distancing.
In phase 2, schools may reopen and nonessential travel can continue. And in phase 3, workplaces may fully resume their staffing and visits to hospitals and nursing homes may resume.
Each phase would last about two weeks in order to make sure infections would not begin to rise once again because of the loosening of social distancing measures.
People who have been identified to be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, however, would continue to be advised to remain at home and limit their contact with other people until the third and final phase is in place.
Despite Trump's plan, governors in several states have suggested it could be several weeks before services can be reopened and that, even then, some measures would not be completely lifted. Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom previewed how he expected life would change in the state until a vaccine for the virus is developed.
Public health officials have shared concerns that lifting restrictions too early could bring about a second wave of infections across the country later this year.
Trump seemed to address that concern during the press conference, suggesting that opening up the country now would help officials address a second wave.
"If the virus returns in the fall, as some scientists think it may possibly, these guidelines will ensure our country is up and running so that we can likewise put it out quickly," he said. "If we see a hot spot developing, we've learned a lot. We'll be able to suppress it, whack it."