President Donald Trump said Wednesday the federal government will not be extending its coronavirus social distancing guidelines once they expire Thursday, and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, predicted that by July the country will be “really rocking again.”
Putting a positive face on the latest grim numbers — the U.S. death toll has now surpassed the Vietnam War — Trump delivered his daily upbeat update and Kushner described the administration's much-criticized response to the pandemic as "a great success story.”
Trump also talked up the good news the day provided: Hopeful results for a possible COVID-19 treatment. But the government announced dismal new economic numbers as the pandemic took hold and shut down much of the country.
The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in first quarter of the year — a precursor to far grimmer reports that are expected this summer from the severe recession triggered by the pandemic.
The White House has been trying to pivot to a new stage of the crisis, focused on efforts to reopen the nation's economy state-by-state amid concerns that lifting restrictions too quickly and without sufficient testing and contact tracing will spur a resurgence.
As part of that effort, Trump, who has both threatened to force states to reopen and said decisions will be left to them, said the White House will not be extending its “30 Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines when they expire Thursday.
“They’ll be fading out because now the governors are doing it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he met with John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana.
Those guidelines — which were originally supposed to last 15 days and were then extended an additional 30 — encouraged Americans to work from home and avoid restaurants and discretionary travel and advised older Americans and those with serious underlying health conditions to isolate themselves.
Vice President Mike Pence said the guidelines have been incorporated into the new guidance issued by the White House earlier this month that lays out how states can gradually ease restrictions and begin to reopen as the rate of new cases slows.
Edwards, who recently extended Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15, is currently under fire from Republican lawmakers in his state after he extended Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15. As he was in Washington, some GOP legislators were trying to rally support to take the extraordinary step of trying to override the governor’s emergency decision-making about the state’s outbreak.
But Trump commended Edwards on the job he’s done after New Orleans became one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots. “I just wanted to congratulate you,” Trump said.
The White House on Wednesday was also pointing to the prospect of an experimental drug, Remdesivir, which proved effective against the virus in a major new study run by the National Institutes of Health, shortening the time it takes for patients to recover by four days on average.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said the drug reduced the time it takes patients to recover by 31% — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care.
“It’s highly significant,' said the usually cautious doctor. “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”
The White House and Trump in particular have been eager to give the country positive news as they work to move past the crisis and rebuild the economy, even as the country's death tally continues to rise. The U.S. has now recorded more than 58,000 deaths from the virus, surpassing the total number of Americans who were killed in the Vietnam War. More than one million people have now tested positive.
Trump said that number has risen so high in large part because of increased U.S. testing.
“That’s a tremendous amount and the reason is because of testing,” he said.
The U.S. has dramatically increased its testing after a slow and rocky start, but many health experts say the country still must do more — as many as 5 million a day — to safely reopen the economy. Otherwise, they warn, cases will skyrocket as Americans return to work, creating another deadly spike.
Trump has dismissed that recommended number, calling it unnecessary and a “media trap.”
Meanwhile Kushner, who has been helping with the effort to get medical supplies to states that need them, suggested in an interview with "Fox and Friends” that the federal government has accomplished its mission.
“We’re on the other side of the medical aspect of this. And I think that we’ve achieved all the different milestones that are needed. So the federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story," he said.
The administration, he added, is preparing the country to “get as close back to normal as possible as quickly as possible.”
“I think what you’ll see in May, as the states are reopening now, is May will be a transition month," he said. "And I think you’ll see by June, a lot of the country should be back to normal and the hope is that ... by July the country is really rocking again.”
Fox News Channel will be holding a two-hour “virtual town hall” with Trump on Sunday evening at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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