President Donald Trump told reporters that the White House was looking at setting a date to lift social distancing guidelines, suggesting that “America will be open for business very soon.”
He said that it will be “a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. … We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
The briefing on Monday was covered by cable news networks and briefly by some of the broadcast networks, which cut away to evening or local newscasts. CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing after it stretched more than an hour, while Fox News stayed with it.
Just last week, Trump suggested that the coronavirus crisis could extend into July or August or even later, although he did not say whether that meant that social distancing measures would still be recommended. Those have led to mass closures and layoffs that have sent the economy in a tailspin.
Yet lifting some of the social distancing recommendations as soon as next week is likely to conflict with public health officials, who have given no indication that the spread of the virus is under control. Trump also suggested that some parts of the country could be “reopened” while other hotspots, like New York and California, remained under restrictions.
“We haven’t announced a date, but we are getting fairly close with coming up with a date,” Trump told reporters.
The White House last week launched a 15-day PSA campaign to get Americans to avoid large gatherings and, in many cases, to simply stay home.
There has been a chorus of voices in conservative media suggesting that the situation will be worse if the economy is in ruin.
On Fox News on Sunday, Steve Hilton said, You know, that famous phrase? ‘The cure is worse than the disease.’ That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards. You think it is just the coronavirus that kills people? This total economic shutdown will kill people.”
Trump echoed that point in his Monday briefing. “We can’t turn [the economy] off and think it’s going to be wonderful. There will be tremendous repercussions. There will be tremendous death.”
He acknowledged that medical professionals on the coronavirus task force have not endorsed a plan to ease social distancing guidelines. The man who has been the most visible public medical professional on the White House task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was not present at Monday’s briefing.
Trump’s appearance was before a much smaller group of reporters, as the White House Correspondents’ Association announced that one of its members may be showing symptoms of the coronavirus. In the seats in the briefing room, reporters were separated even greater than they have been, with just 14 now occupying the space.
Trump took the opportunity to chide what he called the “angry media.”
He looked toward one of the task force members, Dr. Deborah Birx, and noting the empty seats in the briefing room, asked her, “Because of social distancing, we are keeping them empty and they are keeping them empty. Will there ever be a time when all of those really angry, angry people, who don’t like me much to start off with, but not they really don’t like me, will there ever be a time when these seats are full, full to the brim like it used to be?”
“We are learning a lot about social distancing and respiratory diseases, and I think those are the discussions we have to have in the future,” Birx responded.
After the press conference finished, Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, tweeted that it was “pretty disgraceful that @CNN and @MSNBC have both cut away from this @WhiteHouse briefing with @realDonaldTrump and @Mike_Penceduring a global pandemic. Thank you to @FoxNews for keeping Americans informed. #COVID19.”
An MSNBC spokesperson said that “after airing the press conference for over an hour we cut away because the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.”
A CNN spokesperson said, “If the White House wants to ask for time on the network, they should make an official request. Otherwise we will make our own editorial decisions.”