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Trump Health Team Crafts Plan to Open Economy If Virus Peaks (1)

April 8, 2020, 10:35 PM

President Donald Trump’s top health advisers are developing medical criteria for safely reopening the U.S. economy in coming weeks should trends showing a crest in the coronavirus outbreak hold steady.

Deborah Birx, the immunologist who coordinates the White House virus task force, met into the night Tuesday with health experts, including Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Notably absent from the late-night discussion were economic and political advisers to the president, along with the leader of the coronavirus task force, Vice President Mike Pence, and his chief of staff, Marc Short.

Excluding the political and economic advisers was a deliberate signal that the White House would continue for now to prioritize health considerations over economic ones, according to three people familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump, speaking Wednesday evening at a White House press briefing, said he would “rely heavily” on public-health experts to make any changes.

“We can do it in phases,” Trump said when asked about when he might call for the economy to reopen. “I would say that we’re ahead of schedule.”

Trump’s Enthusiasm

Trump remains enthusiastic about trying to restart the economy as quickly as possible, and is pressing staff to expedite planning. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have been encouraged by the president to get Americans back to work as quickly as possible with an eye toward the possible fallout from a coronavirus recession on the president’s re-election prospects.

There is “a lot of activity going on” within the White House as aides try to figure out how to return Americans to work, Fauci said Wednesday.

“It makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like,” Fauci said in an interview with Fox News. “That doesn’t mean we are going to do it right now, but it means we need to be prepared to ease into that.”

States, businesses and ordinary Americans began adopting the social distancing practices that have hamstrung the economy before Trump recommended them on March 16, and it isn’t clear the country will abandon the behaviors simply because the president says it should.

Still, Trump tweeted Wednesday that a re-opening would come “sooner rather than later.”

Trump has expressed an interest in empaneling a second coronavirus task force focused exclusively on the economy, though he sidestepped questions from reporters about whether he intends to do so. He indicated to reporters at the White House on Tuesday that a second panel might slow efforts to reopen the economy.

“We’re thinking about that, but we want to open up, and we want to get it open soon,” Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence -- who leads the existing task force -- said Trump had initiated a “dual track” effort to monitor both the nation’s health and economic safety.

“Some of the best minds here at the White House are beginning to think about what recommendations will look like that we give to businesses, that we give to states,” Pence said.

The administration expects to release as soon as Wednesday new guidance advising individuals who were in proximity to those who contracted coronavirus -- but who themselves do not show any symptoms -- on when they may be able to return to work. The guidance is expected to include careful temperature monitoring and the use of facial protection.

The White House is also soliciting ideas from business groups in Washington on advising companies about restarting operations, and what guidance would be most beneficial to managers looking to balance workers’ safety with a desire to resume operations.

Officials are considering drawing so-called “red zones” and “green zones” within the country to designate where the federal government believes it’s safe to reopen, according to Politico. The plan appears to be a variation of a proposal that Trump was weighing two weeks ago to designate each county as a high, medium, or low risk. The administration would provide matching guidelines for state and local policy makers about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing.

“We’re looking at the concept where we open sections of the country and we’re also looking at the concept where you open up everything,” Trump told Fox News.

The planning would likely depend on testing far more Americans for the virus than has been possible to date. The administration sees rapid and widespread testing as a crucial step, one person familiar with the matter said. Doing so would allow health authorities to better identify infected people, including those who don’t show symptoms, and isolate them from healthy people.

That’s led White House officials to increase pressure on local laboratory directors. Birx said high-volume platforms -- like an Abbott Laboratories test that can provide results within minutes, and an automated test developed by Roche Laboratories Inc. -- should be adopted to provide the scale of testing needed for an effort to reopen the economy.

“We’re really calling on them to really increase that capacity so that we can do not only increase diagnostic testing -- which I think we’re doing quite well right now -- but also increasing the ability to do more health-care workers, first responders, community testing, and surveillance,” Birx said.

(Updates with Trump comments in fifth and sixth paragraphs.)

--With assistance from Mario Parker.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;
Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net

Joshua Gallu

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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