President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the national social distancing guidelines to April 30 in effort to keep the projected coronavirus death toll in the U.S. from reaching a catastrophic, worst-case scenario.
Trump’s announcement walked back his previous remarks that he wanted the country to reopen for business by Easter. Public health experts have warned that loosening restrictions by Easter, on April 12, would result in unnecessary death and economic damage.
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory has been won,” Trump said at an evening press briefing after suggesting that the coronavirus death rate would likely peak in two weeks. The president claimed Sunday that Easter was just an “aspiration” and he hopes the country will “be well on our way to recovery” by June 1.
Trump said his administration was extending the guidelines in order to avoid a major death toll. The president pointed to modeling that forecast 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. if drastic measures weren’t taken to mitigate the outbreak. Trump said the administration is working to keep the projected death toll below 100,000.
“So if we can hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000, it’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country could see up to 200,000 deaths and millions of infections, though he cautioned that the numbers are based on models and nothing is certain.
There are about 140,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., and at least 2,400 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
While Trump can issue federal guidelines, the president doesn’t have the power to decide if the country can reopen, since those decisions are being made by governors on a state-by-state basis. The Trump administration’s guidance advises people to stay mostly at home and avoid groups of more than 10.
States across the country have ordered residents to stay mostly indoors, and schools, restaurants and other businesses have shuttered. The CDC has urged New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents to avoid non-essential travel for 14 days.
Trump also alleged on Sunday that hospitals and healthcare workers were hoarding ventilators, which are in scarce supply across the country. The president cited no evidence to back up the claim and it was not clear what facilities he was referring to.
City and state officials have consistently called for more medical supplies as hospitals see a major influx of patients.