It’s safe to reopen states, Trump says as governors grapple with loosening restrictions

Trump said it's possible to "satisfy both" anti-lockdown protesters and those who are afraid to resume public life.

Trump speaks during a Fox News virtual town hall
President Donald Trump speaks during a Fox News virtual town hall from the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, May 3, 2020, in Washington. –AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Sunday sought to reassure Americans that it is safe for states to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, offering support to protesters who have railed against the lockdowns across the country.

“I really believe that you can go to parks, you can go to beaches . . . [if] you stay away a certain amount,” Trump said during a Fox News Channel town hall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Trump said it’s possible to “satisfy both” anti-lockdown protesters and those who are afraid to resume public life. He noted that Americans have been wearing face masks and social distancing in recent weeks and said “you’re going to have to do that for a while,” even as states reopen their economies.

He scaled up the estimate he has used for the number of expected dead – projecting that the U.S. toll may be as high as 100,000 – while emphasizing that he takes the novel coronavirus seriously and noting that three of his friends have died after contracting it.

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Trump had previously said that about 65,000 Americans would probably die of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Trump’s comments come as governors continue to grapple with reopening pains amid ongoing pushback against coronavirus restrictions. They also come as the administration is increasing its efforts to blame China for the virus, which has now taken the lives of more than 67,000 people in the United States.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, on Sunday defended her decision to extend a stay-home order to May 15, declaring that “whether you agree with me or not, I’m working to protect your life if you live in the state of Michigan.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said a recent spike in cases was merely a “one-day blip” caused by increased testing and pledged that he and other officials were “doing everything in our power to get our state opened as soon as possible.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said he had abruptly reversed a decision to make mask-wearing mandatory because people “were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”

Anti-lockdown protesters have demonstrated at capitols across the country in recent weeks. Trump on Friday expressed support for protesters in Michigan – some of whom were armed with military-style rifles – tweeting that “these are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely!”

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Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, rebuked some of the demonstrators, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that while she supports their right to protest, they should not be gathering close to one another and forgoing face masks.

“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” Birx said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”

Amid heightened scrutiny of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, some top Trump administration officials have been redoubling their efforts to focus voter anger on China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Sunday in an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” that “enormous evidence” indicates that the novel coronavirus originated at a laboratory in Wuhan, China – even though the U.S. intelligence community declined last week to specify the origin of the virus.

Pompeo added that “the best experts” believe the virus was man-made. Pressed on the matter, Pompeo said he has “no reason to doubt” the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the virus was not man-made or genetically altered.

After the expiration of the federal social-distancing guidance at the end of April, states have largely been left to their own devices when it comes to reopening their economies.

The White House last month released a three-phase plan for a gradual reopening, but it offered few specifics. Since then, members of the White House coronavirus task force have begun reviewing expanded guidelines, though there is debate within the administration over the impact the new guidance would have, particularly on faith communities and restaurants.

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On Sunday, the governors of several states faced questions about the steps they have taken amid the pandemic. Some, such as Whitmer, defended the need for stay-home orders, arguing that “this isn’t something we just negotiate ourselves out of.”

“I’m going to continue to do my job, regardless of what tweets come out or what polls come out or what people think . . . makes sense,” Whitmer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re going to listen to facts and science, because we have got to get this right.”

Whitmer also sharply criticized “some of the outrageousness” that was on display during last week’s protests in Lansing, Michigan, which she said “depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country.”

“The Confederate flags, and nooses, the swastikas, the behavior that you have seen in all of the clips is not representative of who we are in Michigan,” Whitmer said.

Mississippi’s Reeves, meanwhile, said during a Friday news conference that he had intended to announce a relaxing of safer-at-home orders but instead shared the news that there were 392 cases in the state over the previous 24 hours.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Reeves said the state had since analyzed the data and found that the number of cases was higher because more tests were done. He said that finding led him to conclude the state could further relax social distancing requirements, beyond his earlier announcement that retail stores could reopen beginning April 27.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican much of whose state will enter the first phase of reopening Monday, said he is “intent on moving forward to be able to get the society on its feet again.”

“I think it’s going to be an important step for [the] people of Florida to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “We’re going to follow a safe, smart, step-by-step approach to Florida’s recovery.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, on Sunday announced a partnership with six neighboring states to jointly buy $5 billion of personal protective equipment, ventilators, tests and other standard medical equipment. The states, which include New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, seek to maximize their buying power as a collective and end the bidding competition against one another.

As states move forward with partially reopening, some residents are chafing at measures that would make it mandatory to wear face masks in certain establishments.

DeWine said in an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” that he reversed course on such an order last week after it quickly became clear that many Ohioans were opposed.

“It just wasn’t going to work. You got to know what you can do and what you can’t do,” he said.

Even in states that are partially reopening, some residents say it feels like it may be a long time before things go back to “normal.”

When the mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, announced last month that salons, gyms, restaurants and some other establishments would be allowed to reopen on May 1, Mary Breedlove, a 53-year-old hair stylist, was flooded with calls from clients.

“My phone was blowing up: ‘Me first, me first,’ ” said Breedlove, who works out of a rented room in a salon with her 30-year-old daughter.

For weeks, Breedlove had been making special color kits that she would leave on her front porch for pickup so clients could keep their color fresh during the shutdown. She and other stylists missed not only their regular income but also their personal interactions with customers.

Then, when the salon was finally able to reopen its doors on Friday, she said, “the reality hit us.”

Now, clients wait in their cars until they receive a text message from Breedlove that she’s ready for them. Once they enter the salon, Breedlove takes their temperature, sanitizes their hands and gives them a disposable cape to wear. No walk-ins are allowed, and if an appointment normally would have taken an hour, it now takes about 20 minutes longer given the need to sterilize all of the surfaces in the room before and after each customer.

But for Breedlove, the hardest part has been the stifling effect of having to wear a face mask while she works.

“You don’t realize how much you take for granted just looking at people’s face move,” she said. “I love visiting with my guests. . . . [With a mask on], it’s very impersonal, and our job is a very personal one.”

The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell, Karen DeYoung, Candace Buckner and Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.


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