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President Trump declared on Wednesday that the country has “passed the peak” in the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus, while teasing an upcoming announcement on guidelines the White House will offer states for reopening the economy.
“The battle continues but the data indicates that we have passed the peak,” Trump said during a press briefing in the White House Rose Garden.
The president did not reveal any details of the guidelines it will release, but said he will be making an announcement Thursday afternoon.
“We think some states may be able to open before May 1,” Trump said of the date the White House has set for continued social distancing practices in the country. “We want to get our country open again.”
Trump has been consistently bemoaned the economic devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created and argued that “the cure” could be worse than the virus as the businesses around the nation continue to be shuttered amid the public health crisis.
Some 16.8 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three weeks – meaning one in 10 working Americans was out of a job.
The figures collectively constituted the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession, it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.
When questioned on the timing of reopening the economy as the country still sees thousands of deaths a day from COVID-19, Trump said that there “has to be a balance.”
“There is also death involved in keeping it closed,” he said. “When you look at mental health, suicide.”
The president, however, attempted to smile on a cloudy day during his press briefing on Wednesday and assure Americans that both jobs and the economy will return as the virus recedes.
“We’ll be the comeback kids,” Trump said. “We want to get our country back. We’re going to do it soon.”
Trump’s comments come just days after governors in a number of states on both the east and west coasts announced they had formed task forces to explore the reopening of their states’ economies and controlling COVID-19 into the future.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington revealed Monday that they had come to an agreement to reopen the states’ economies. The state leaders said health outcomes and science, not politics, would drive decision-making. Any modifications to each state’s stay-at-home order will be grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the health impacts of COVID-19, they added, saying no large-scale reopening will take place until metrics reflected a significant decline in the spread of the virus.
A number of states in the Northeast – including New York, which has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. – announced a similar plan on Monday.
California, which has so far weathered the pandemic better than predicted, has gone even further with Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, outlining a plan for loosening the stay-at-home orders.
Newsom said on Tuesday the state is moving into an “optimistic phase” in the battle against the virus before laying out the parameters that need to be met before the stay-at-home orders are lifted.
The plan calls for enhanced testing and contact tracing, monitoring of vulnerable segments of the population, addressing needs of hospitals to deal with any additional surges of the virus, continuing to work with researchers on therapeutic treatments, creating a plan for safely reopening businesses, schools and other institutions, and preparing Californians for what he called “turning the faucet back on.”
During Wednesday’s press briefing the president was asked about a Fox News report that sources believe COVID-19 was first contracted by a worker in a lab in Wuhan, China while the country was researching the disease. According to multiple sources, the infected worker — or patient zero — then left the lab and inadvertently spread the virus to the population there. “More and more we’re hearing the story…we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation,” Trump said in response.
Sources also told Fox News that the so-called “wet markets” in Wuhan never sold bats, which is where COVID-19 first originated, and never had any ties with the Chinese government lab besides its proximity.