President Trump on Wednesday said parts of the country deserve to get back to normal sooner than others, arguing the “lamestream media” is using the coronavirus to hurt the economy and his reelection chances even as the U.S. suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic and New York said efforts to restrict society have paid off.
“There’s big sections of our country that are very little affected,” Mr. Trump told a White House briefing.
Mr. Trump has advised Americans to work and learn at home, avoid essential travel and use takeout instead of frequenting restaurants for 15 days. That guidance expires this weekend, however, and the president is eager to reopen the country as he revs up a reelection bid staked on the once-robust economy.
The president says New York City and parts of the West Coast might be hampered by the pandemic for some time but he wants to give flexibility to parts of the country, such as the Midwest, that might have less of a problem right now.
“It’s confined to certain areas, high-density areas,” he said, adding: “Our country wants to get back to work.”
Mr. Trump also personalized the pandemic Wednesday, drawing a straight line between widespread fears around the virus and his electoral prospects.
“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!” he wrote.
His position sets up a clash with health experts who say it will take many weeks to get the pandemic under control.
Governors around the country say they want to get their economies humming again, too. But they’re worried Mr. Trump’s push to get things “raring to go” by Easter is too optimistic, citing the arc of the coronavirus outbreak and public health experts’ recommendations.
The U.S. recorded at least 185 fatalities on Wednesday alone, making it the worst day so far and the death toll exceeded 900. The total number of U.S. cases is above 65,000.
New York is far and away the hardest-hit U.S. state in the coronavirus outbreak. As of Wednesday, there were more than 30,800 positive coronavirus cases in New York state and at least 285 coronavirus-related deaths.
As Mr. Trump looks to loosen strict guidance, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “social distancing” appeared to be slowing down the virus in his state.
“The evidence suggests that the density control measures may be working,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak in his state.
He said on Sunday, projected hospitalizations were doubling every two days, compared to a rate of every 4.7 days by Tuesday.
“I don’t place a great deal of stock in any one projection,” Mr. Cuomo said, “but this is a very good sign and a positive sign.”
He also cited progress in Westchester County, which was the “hottest cluster” in the U.S. before the state ordered closures and ramped up testing.
Hoping to ramp up the pressure, he said New York City would try closing some streets to cars so that pedestrians have more space around them when they go out for fresh air. He’s also asking the public not to play basketball or other close-contact sports in playgrounds.
Mr. Cuomo is among governors who’ve ordered all non-essential employees to work from home and closed bars and restaurants, except for takeout or carry-out orders. He said no one thinks it’s sustainable to keep the economy closed but there are “two parallel thoughts” at play, in that he’s not willing to risk lives.
As Congress rushed to pass stimulus measures for the economy, Mr. Trump congratulated his administration for its response to date, saying its performance has saved lives.
“We’ve done one hell of a job,” Mr. Trump said, praising his team. “You wouldn’t even have a country left.”
Yet Mr. Trump’s push to open up the country Easter has made health experts uneasy, saying the outbreak hasn’t peaked hard-hit places and may spread to new parts of the nation.
It’s unclear if Mr. Trump’s push to loosen White House guidance will matter in certain places. Governors are signaling they’ll put health recommendations first, so the economy doesn’t face greater harm down the road.
Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine, a Republican, says the only way to slow it down is through social distancing. He says the outbreak might not peak until May 1.
“The truth is that protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive,” Mr. DeWine tweeted. “In fact, one depends on the other. We save our economy by first saving lives. And we have to do it in that order.”
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It has infected over 450,000 people worldwide, upending normal life in much of the developed world and forcing Japan and the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Summer Games in Tokyo to 2021.
In Europe, Spain has reported over 3,400 deaths from the new coronavirus, making it the second nation to pass China’s death toll of nearly 3,300.
Italy was the first country to reach that sobering milestone. Its death toll has surged to over 7,500, by far the worst in the world. It’s gotten so bad that military trucks are transporting coffins out of hard-hit Bergamo.
The U.S. is trying to avoid the same fate, though Mr. Cuomo said the state’s needs are still outpacing projected capacity and supplies.
Projections put the expected need for hospital beds at 140,000, though the current capacity is about 53,000. Yet coupled with his order that hospitals expand capacity by 50%, plus additional makeshift hospitals being set up with FEMA assistance and other measures, the total supply could end up somewhere around 119,000 beds.
Mr. Cuomo said they might have to borrow an idea from Italy, in which one ventilator could be used on multiple patients.
Mr. Cuomo said the state is going to need 30,000 ventilators. There are 4,000 in the system, the state purchased an additional 7,000, and the federal government is sending 4,000, he said.
The governor is urging the White House to use a “rolling deployment” of ventilators and other gear as different places in the country see a peak in cases.
“Let’s talk about addressing the critical need in that hot spot,” he said. “Once you address that hotspot .. then shift to the next hot spot.”
Mr. Trump said he’s ready to invoke the Defense Production Act to direct companies to produce more equipment, though companies are coming forward on their own.
“It’s a great point of leverage, it’s a great negotiating tool,” Mr. Trump said of the Korean War-era law.
Mr. Trump says testing, which lagged at first, is increasing exponentially and now exceeds that of South Korea, which won praise for its response to the coronavirus — although the Asian country conducted more testing per capita.
Mr. Trump requested medical equipment from South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.