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As reports that another 5.5 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims this week mostly due to coronavirus-related shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses, President Donald Trump on Thursday released new guidelines for getting the country reopened — and people back to work.
During his now-daily COVID-19 press briefing, the president laid out a plan that envisions a three-phase approach to restarting the country’s economic engine, which will begin with regions that are least-affected by the pandemic.
And some states are ready to go now, he said.
“We can begin the next front in our war, which we are calling ‘Opening Up America Again,’” the president said. “To preserve the health of Americans, we must preserve the health of our economy.”
In announcing the plan, as well as the formation of a bipartisan panel of lawmakers from the House and Senate, Trump noted that it contains “recommendations” for governors to follow in developing their own strategies for reopening.
In addition, and as expected, the plan contains several criteria that have to be met regarding declines in infections and hospitalizations before reopening can take place.
The plan was approved by Trump’s top medical advisors — Drs. Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and Robert Redfield. It will be a “data-driven” approach, giving governors the ultimate decision-making authority about when to open up parts or all of their states, down to the county level.
“We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” said the president, taking care to note that the recommendations are “based on hard verifiable data.”
“Some states will be able to open up sooner than others,” he added.
As noted in a White House statement, “Criteria include a downward trajectory in cases presenting coronavirus-like symptoms or a downward trajectory in positive tests.
“The criteria also included hospitals having the resources to treat all patients without crisis care and a robust testing program for healthcare workers,” it said.
Phase one of the plan states:
All vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place. Members of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home. Precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents.
All individuals, when in public, (e.g., parks, outdoor recreation areas, shopping areas), should maximize physical distance from others. Social settings of more than 10 people, where appropriate distancing may not be practical, should be avoided unless precautionary measures are observed.
It also calls for people to avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in situations where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, and to minimize “non-essential travel.”
Employers should continue to encourage telework when feasible but should consider returning to work in phases.
— Schools and organized youth activities that are currently shut down should “remain closed.”
— Prohibit visits to nursing homes and senior living centers.
— Allow theaters, restaurants, sporting venues and other sit-down businesses to reopen and operate under strict distancing guidelines.
— Elective surgeries can resume, as they are clinically appropriate.
— Gyms can reopen under similar strict distancing and hygiene guidelines.
Phase two calls for vulnerable populations to continue sheltering in place while members of households and relatives who return to workplaces or other places of business remain aware of their potential to infect older, susceptible people.
Changes include allowing groups of 50 people to meet when practical and:
— Reopening schools and youth activities;
— Permitting non-essential travel to resume as normal;
— Allow bars to operate with diminished standing-room occupancy.
Phase three essentially returns us to where we were before the pandemic, though vulnerable individuals “should practice physical distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings where distancing may not be practical, unless precautionary measures are observed.”
The plan describes vulnerable individuals as those who are “elderly” and have “serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.”
In all, more than 22 million Americans have lost jobs or have been furloughed since governors began issuing stay-at-home orders and directing non-essential businesses to close in March.
Trump has been keen to get the economy reopened sooner rather than later, but the onus will be on governors. Without mentioning any by name, he said Thursday he has heard from several out West who say they are ready to open now, already having met Phase one requirements.
“I heard from a number who said they are in very good shape,” he said. “They will be ready to open literally tomorrow.”
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