Trump Releases Plan to Reopen States, Says America Is on 'Next Front' Of War With Coronavirus

President Donald Trump released guidelines to states for rolling back quarantine measures in the United States amid the new coronavirus pandemic but said the situation in each state will dictate when and how it reopens.

Trump's announcement, made during the White House Coronavirus Task Force's daily briefing, outlined when and how governors should reopen their state. The guidelines broke the reopening of the country to enable Americans to return to their jobs and engage in social gatherings into three phases based on outbreak conditions.

"We are in the next front of our war which we are calling, 'Opening Up America Again,'" Trump said on Thursday. "As I have said for some time now, a national shutdown is not a sustainable longtime solution. To preserve the health of our citizens we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy."

Trump has been criticized for pushing to reopen businesses to save the economy at the expense of public health, but the president said on Thursday that the guidelines are based on "hard, verifiable data." Before moving onto "phased openings," the Trump administration said it provided a "gating criteria" for states or regions to satisfy within a 14-day period.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the gating criteria a "hurtle" for reopening. Some regions, states and locations are already fulfilling some of the criteria, he said. Before moving onto the second and third phases, the gating criteria must once again be met, so he noted there are safeguards for each phase of the reopening.

Before moving into any phase, according to the Opening Up America Again guidelines, the states must have a downward trajectory of both influenza-like illnesses and COVID-19-like syndromic cases and also should either be a downward trajectory of documented cases or positive tests as a percent of total tests.

Phase 1 (States and regions that satisfy gating criteria):

  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place
  • All individuals when in public places should maximize physical distance from others
  • Socializing in groups of more than 10 people in situations where appropriate physical distancing cannot be maintained should be avoided
  • Non-essential travel should be minimized
  • Employers should encourage telework whenever possible or return to work in phases with common areas closed
  • Schools that are closed should remain closed
  • Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited
  • Large venues, such as movie theaters, restaurants and sports arenas, can operate under strict physical distancing protocols
  • Elective surgeries can resume
  • Gyms can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols
  • Bars should remain closed

Phase 2 (States and regions with no evidence of a rebound and that satisfy the gating criteria a second time):

  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place
  • All individuals when in public places should maximize physical distance from others
  • Socializing in groups of more than 50 people in situations where appropriate physical distancing cannot be maintained should be avoided
  • Nonessential travel can resume
  • Employers should encourage telework whenever possible and feasible with business operations or return to work with common areas closed
  • Schools can reopen
  • Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited
  • Large venues, such as movie theaters, restaurants and sports arenas, can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols
  • Bars may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate

Phase 3 (States and regions with no evidence of a rebound and that satisfy the gating criteria a third time):

  • Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions but should practice physical distancing
  • Low-risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments
  • Unrestricted staffing of worksites can resume
  • Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume
  • Large venues, such as movie theaters, restaurants and sports arenas, can operate under limited physical distancing protocols
  • Bars may operate with increased standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate

A specific timeline wasn't issued for the reopening of states. Trump said governors will have the flexibility to determine that on their own.

In the past, the president had said he hoped to open the country on Easter Sunday, April 12. His initial goal drew a rebuke from critics and health officials who warned him that to do so would place Americans' lives at risk because cases of COVID-19 continued to rise across the country. In response, Trump extended the social distancing guidelines through April 30.

Thursday's announcement follows comments the president made during a Friday briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force, where he said: "I'm going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it's the right decision," he told reporters at the time. "It's the biggest decision I've ever had to make. I have great authority if I want to use it. I would rather have the states use it. I have absolute authority to use it."

president trump states rights re-open
Trump has repeatedly framed the decision over whether or not he has the legal authority to extend or cease social distancing guidelines past May 1 as a decision only he alone can make in terms of re-opening of the U.S. economy. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP/Getty Images

Earlier in the week, Trump said the "fake news media" was working to create "confusion and conflict" with their reports that U.S. governors are responsible for lifting lockdowns in their respective states and do not need the authority of the president to do so.

"Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect," Trump tweeted. "It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons." The president added that his administration is "working closely" with U.S. governors and that the announcement would be "made shortly."

Trump maintains that the authority he refers comes from to the Tenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, which says that any power not specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution belongs to the states and the people.

Although Trump hasn't wavered in his message that he has the power to reopen the government, on Thursday, he said governors will be "empowered" to tailor their approach to meet their state's circumstances. Those that want to remain closed may and those who want to reopen will have the freedom to do so.

The Trump administration first announced federal guidelines for social distancing on March 16, prompting several states to pass down shelter-in-place orders that week. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, both Democrats, have frequently pushed back against calls from the president to eventually lift stay-at-home orders. On Thursday, Cuomo announced the state's social distancing protocols, including the closure of non-essential businesses, will remain in place until at least May 15.

Last month, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards sparked a federal vs. state debate after saying the reason he didn't shut down Mardi Gras festivities in February was because "not one person" at the federal level, including the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, recommended canceling any events over coronavirus fears.

Last Saturday, Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck echoed Trump's criticism of state-level authority, saying governors don't care if the federal government goes into more debt because it has offered aid to each state's separate coronavirus responses.

More than 40 states have imposed statewide stay-at-home orders. Several other states, all of which have Republican governors, have either declined or ordered lockdowns in their largest metropolitan areas only.

Reopening states won't be the end of the difficulty, Trump said, but he expressed confidence in the American people to rise to the occasion.

"We know there will be hardships and challenges ahead," the president said. "...We will reclaim the magnificent destiny that we share and we will carry our nation to new heights of greatness and glory."

Trump Releases Plan to Reopen States, Says America Is on 'Next Front' Of War With Coronavirus | U.S.