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Federal guidance urging social distancing will stay in place through April 30, Trump says

By BRITTANY SHAMMAS, KIM BELLWARE, LATESHIA BEACHUM, MIRIAM BERGER AND FELICIA SONMEZ | The Washington Post | Published: March 29, 2020

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Federal guidance urging social distancing will stay in place through April 30, President Donald Trump announced Sunday as he backed off his hope that the country will be "opened up" by Easter Sunday. He added that deaths due to the coronavirus will likely peak in two weeks.

The guidelines were originally set to expire this week.

"Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won," Trump said. "That would be the greatest loss of all. . . . Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread."

The announcement comes after Trump last week suggested the federal government would soon relax its guidelines and move to a county-by-county system of addressing the pandemic.

Asked Sunday whether his previous statement about Easter was a mistake, Trump responded, "No. It was just an aspiration."

Trump also said Sunday that he expects the peak in the death rate is likely to hit in two weeks, and that by June 1 the country "will be well on our way to recovery."

Officials on the White House coronavirus task force warned earlier Sunday that "every metro area should assume they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York" and doubted the country could reopen businesses and ease social-distancing restrictions by Easter, as the president has suggested.

There are more than 2,200 coronavirus-related deaths and 130,000 confirmed cases in the United States.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sharply criticized Trump's handling of the pandemic, arguing that his actions have resulted in the loss of American lives.

Vice President Mike Pence said the White House task force would soon bring its recommendations to Trump on whether to ease social distancing and reopen the economy.
The White House's coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx, offered a grim assessment Sunday: "No state, no metro area, will be spared."

With covid-19 cases surging in New York - and new hot spots rapidly developing in Detroit, New Orleans and other parts of the country - Birx said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that state and local officials should act now to inventory supplies and prepare for the eventuality that the outbreak could wreak similar havoc on their communities.

"Every metro area should assume they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York," Birx said. By the time these regions see an influx of patients in their intensive care units, she added, it is likely the virus would have "been spreading from days to weeks."

To that end, Birx repeatedly dodged questions about the White House's response - including the extent to which the federal government might take over procurement for much-needed medical supplies at a moment when state officials say they are competing against one another for masks and ventilators.

In the meantime, state officials continue to sound a fearful, dour note about the outbreak.

"Our numbers are climbing exponentially," said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, appearing later on the show. "We see this astronomical rise. We've got hospitals that are already at capacity, we're already running out of (supplies) as well."

Obtaining medical supplies through a contracting process has placed states in bidding battles as they compete for medical resources, she said. Although her state received 112,000 N95 masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Saturday, she said hospitals still will run low on protective equipment.

Whitmer added: "We're going to be in dire straits again in a matter of days."

Ultimately, reopening parts of life that have shut down amid strict distancing measures in many places will depend on the availability of rapid testing, said the most prominent health expert on his White House coronavirus task force, Anthony Fauci.

"When we get those tests out that you can do right away - rapid point of care - then I think we're going to be closer," he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "To put a timeline on it, it's going to be a matter of weeks; it's not going to be tomorrow, and it's not going to be next week. It's going to be a little bit more than that."

Modifying the intensity of the closures can happen only when the daily number of new cases flattens and then declines, Fauci said. He pointed to "serious problems" in hot spots such as New York City and, increasingly, New Orleans and Detroit.

"To be honest, we don't have any firm idea" of the peak infection rate, he said.

Pelosi noted on CNN that the death toll has doubled in recent days and suggested there should, at some point, be an examination of the Trump administration's handling of the crisis.

"When did this president know about this, and what did he know? … That's for an after-action review. But as the president fiddles, people are dying. And we just have to take every precaution," the speaker said.

Pelosi also suggested the bill passed by Congress last week was only a first step toward addressing the pandemic.

"Well, we have to do more," she said when asked about Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's criticism of the measure. "I think this bill was just a down payment. … We have to pass another bill that goes toward meeting the need more substantially than we have."

Pelosi did not directly answer when asked about reports that she has not spoken with Trump in months.

"I'm the speaker of the House. Legislation is my responsibility. . . . That has not required any conversations with the president," she said.

She also suggested Democrats will push back against Trump's signing statement on last week's coronavirus response bill, in which the president refused to comply with some oversight measures.

"We won't accept that," Pelosi said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Sunday that his state's health system is at risk of being overwhelmed with patients in a matter of days.

By April 4 or 5, he said on ABC News' "This Week," New Orleans will be at capacity on ventilators. Next, he warned, area hospitals will be out of beds.

"We remain on a trajectory, really, to overwhelm our capacity to deliver health care," he said.

Edwards, a Democrat, said the state has ordered 12,000 ventilators from both the national stockpile and private options but has received only 192. He warned state officials might have to toughen enforcement if necessary.

The governor said that Mardi Gras contributed to the spread of the virus but that officials never considered canceling celebrations.

"If you'll go back, you will see that the federal government was saying things were well under control," he said.

Coronavirus infections and deaths will continue to rise in Britain over the next few weeks and only then can the government determine how long the country's lockdown must last, Jenny Harries, the country's deputy chief medical officer, said a news conference Sunday.

It could be six months or longer, she added, until Britain "can get back to normal."

Calling the virus a "moving feast," Harries stressed that rolling back coronavirus restrictions too soon would be "foolish" and could undo any progress made under the current prevention measures.

"We actually anticipate our numbers will get worse over the next week, possibly two, and then we are looking to see whether we have managed to push that curve down and we start to see a decline," Harries said, according to the Telegraph.

She continued, "This is not to say we would be in complete lockdown for six months, but as a nation we have to be really, really responsible and keep doing what we're all doing until we're sure we can gradually start lifting various interventions which are likely to be spaced - based on the science and our data - until we gradually come back to a normal way of living."

Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, also announced at the news conference what he called "emergency footing," in which the government will set up strategic control centers nationwide led by commanders in Britain's armed forces.

Jenrick described it as "an unprecedented step in peacetime" that hadn't been implemented since World War II. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was confirmed to have the coronavirus on Friday, did not appear at the news conference. Critics have said that his administration was too slow to respond to the outbreak. Britain lagged behind other European countries in implementing social distancing and lockdown measures.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide passed 700,000 on Sunday.

A top Italian health official said that he believes the country is at the "peak" of the outbreak and that within a week to 10 days the number of cases will start dropping.

Italy reported a slight decline in deaths related to the novel coronavirus on Sunday, with 756 dead within the last 24 hours, down from Friday's record high of 919 dead from covid-19.

Italy's Civil Protection Agency also announced 5,217 new confirmed infections, raising the country's total to 97,689.

In recent weeks, 10,799 people have died in Italy from the virus, the highest official death toll from the pandemic yet. Authorities reported 889 deaths on Saturday.

The country has been under a strict lockdown as the government struggles to contain the outbreak, centered in the north. Doctors in Italy, overwhelmed by the number of dead and overrun hospitals, have issued dire warnings to other countries, including the United States, to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.

Moscow will enact a citywide quarantine starting Monday, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced. The stay-at-home order for all residents comes as the Russian capital's confirmed novel coronavirus cases surpassed 1,000 over the weekend - roughly two-thirds of the country's total. Eight people have died.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the $2 trillion stimulus package is "not bailing out any companies or any industries."

But he offered few specifics on how American taxpayers will be compensated for any loans to the airline industry or others critical to national security.

"As the president said, we'll look at each one of these situations," Mnuchin said on CBS News' "Face the Nation."

"Some of them are very good companies that just need liquidity and will get loans. Some of these companies may need more significant help, and we may be taking warrants or equity as well as that. The president wants to make sure that the American taxpayers are compensated. This is not a bailout."

Mnuchin committed to "full transparency on anything we do" to help large corporations with the financial rescue package.

"We will be reporting to the public," he said.

Mnuchin said the entire package provides "economic relief overall for about 10 weeks."

"Hopefully we'll kill this virus quicker. In the end, we won't need it, but we - we have liquidity to put into the American economy to support American workers and American business," Mnuchin said.

He added that if it takes longer than that to reopen the economy, he will go back to Congress to "get more support for the American economy."

"But I hope that's not needed," he added.

Mnuchin said his focus right now is on executing the package, particularly on ensuring that many Americans receive $1,200 checks within three weeks by direct deposit.

"We have everybody within Treasury and the administration working around-the-clock to get this money out quickly, since this doesn't do people any good if it takes a long time," he said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro took the Trump administration's efforts to blame China for the coronavirus one step further, suggesting, without evidence, that Chinese officials brought the virus to the White House during trade talks in January.

"They shook our hands," Navarro said in the interview. "We broke bread. … They smiled and left with nary a warning about the severity of the crisis."

Despite Navarro's claim, there is no evidence that any of the Chinese officials who attended January's signing ceremony for the partial U.S.-China trade deal have contracted the coronavirus.

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The Washington Post's Cat Zakrzewski and Tony Romm contributed to this report.
 

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