‘Our country wasn’t built to be shut down’: Trump pushes back against health experts
President Donald Trump on Sunday night appeared to suggest he would soon consider relaxing federal guidelines meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic — even as senior administration officials promoted those measures as critical to preventing further loss of life and predicted a grim week ahead.
"WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF," Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before midnight. "AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"
The president's message referred to the administration's "15 Days to Slow the Spread" initiative, announced last Monday, which urged Americans to practice social distancing; avoid gatherings of more than 10 people; work or attend school from home whenever possible; and abstain from eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts.
At the White House coronavirus task force's daily press briefing Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence noted that the country was seven days into the effort and praised Americans' participation thus far.
"With the cooperation, compassion, generosity, and prayers of the American people, we can slow the spread, we can protect the most vulnerable, and we can heal our land," Pence said. "So let's do it, America."
But while the guidance is helping "flatten the curve" of infected individuals within the United States, it has also contributed to a precipitous drop in economic activity.
Even more stringent directives issued by state and local authorities, such as large-scale "shelter-in-place" orders, have similarly spooked financial markets and provoked fears of an imminent recession.
On Monday morning, Trump signaled growing skepticism regarding those health-related lockdowns, retweeting a handful of accounts that proposed Americans return to work in the near future and advocated for a resumption of daily life in the U.S.
"The fear of the virus cannot collapse our economy that President Trump has built up," read a tweet shared by the president. "We The People are smart enough to keep away from others if we know that we are sick or they are sick! After 15 days are over the world can begin to heal!"
In another post Trump retweeted, a Twitter user wrote that after 15 days, "we keep the high risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work."
The president's social media activity came as Surgeon General Jerome Adams made a string of appearances on morning news shows, repeatedly cautioning that the coming days would prove among the most difficult in Americans' fight against the public health crisis.
Adams is one of a number of senior administration officials who have argued that social distancing recommendations will need to be sustained, not slackened, to curb the swift spread of COVID-19, and cautioned that the its threat to Americans will last longer than initially thought.
"I want America to understand: This week, it's going to get bad," Adams told NBC's "Today" show, adding that "we really, really need everyone to stay at home."
The increased availability of testing and the disease's rapid rate of transmission are expected to result in an eruption of new cases of COVID-19, which has already infected more than 35,000 people across all 50 states and produced at least 473 deaths. Because of limited testing capacity, experts agree the actual number of positive cases is much higher.
"As the nation's doctor, I'm here to help America understand how we need to respond to this," Adams said Monday, when pressed on Trump's weekend tweet previewing an impending "decision" on the administration's response efforts.
"And where I come down is that every single day counts," the surgeon general continued. "Every single second counts. And right now, there are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously."
In an interview last Wednesday with NBC, Adams acknowledged that 15 days of preventative measures is "likely not going to be enough" time to successfully halt the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.
Pence, who is leading the administration's management of the outbreak, offered an even bleaker prediction a day earlier, saying that "according to some of our modeling, we could well be dealing with coronavirus cases in the United States well into July."
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also offered an inconclusive response when asked last Friday how long Americans would have to remain socially distant.
"I cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now, it's going to be over," he said. "I don't think there's a chance of that. I think it's going to be several weeks."
And according to an internal report from the Department of Health and Human Services, produced last weekend and first reported on by The New York Times, the pandemic "will last 18 months or longer and could include multiple waves of illness."
Those dire assessments clash with rising protests from some of the president’s conservative allies that the economic devastation wrought by "social distancing" could be "worse" than the coronavirus' human toll.
"I think it is soon becoming time to have old and/or sick people take every precaution and healthy people go back to work forever changed [with] new habits in a grimmer reality," tweeted Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham expressed frustration with the uncertain time frame for the federal government's guidelines, tweeting that returning to work after 15 days "will require new protocols" including wearing personal protective equipment.
"A global recession would be worse for our people than the Great Depression. Doctors provide medical treatment and cures—they should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days," Ingraham wrote.
"Even another week of this will mean millions more out of work, massive damage to businesses big and small, rental incomes, families at every income level, horrific pain and suffering," she added. "But if we knew this was almost over, recovery would be easier."
Lloyd Blankfein, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, also asserted that while "extreme measures to flatten the virus 'curve'" were reasonable to "stretch out the strain" on health care systems, "crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond."
"Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work," he tweeted.