New York and six other Northeastern states on Thursday extended coronavirus stay-at-home orders to May 15, as President Donald Trump issued new federal guidelines for a cautious reopening of the economy in keeping with advice from leading public health authorities.
The president, who had pressed to restart idled businesses as early as May 1 and had declared “total” authority to do so, settled instead for a phased-in, science-based strategy, heeding warnings from infectious-disease experts that easing social distancing too soon would invite disaster.
“We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing where the plan was unveiled.
Trump’s move to adopt recommendations, rather than orders, also averted a looming confrontation with governors, many of them Democrats, who insisted it was up to them to decide how and when to relax stay-at-home orders they themselves had imposed since last month.
The governors have cited the apparent success of their directives in curbing the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 33,000 Americans in a matter of weeks, while acknowledging the measures have wreaked economic havoc.
At least 668,000 people to date have tested positive in the United States for COVID-19, the highly contagious lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged from China at the end of last year.
Lacking a vaccine to contain the pandemic, 42 of the 50 states have ordered residents to remain indoors except for necessary outings, such as grocery shopping or doctor’s visits, while closing schools, universities and non-essential businesses.
The unprecedented measures have stifled large swaths of the economy, throwing some 22 million people out of work, upending financial markets and leading to forecasts that America is headed for its deepest recession since the economic collapse of the 1930s.
Trump, a Republican who had staked his November re-election bid on the strength of the U.S. economy, had come under mounting pressure from allies to forge ahead with a swift reopening, despite medical experts who said doing so risked reigniting the outbreak just as it was being brought under control.
The guidelines Trump unveiled at the White House after previewing them in a video conference with governors call for a three-phase process of restarting economic activity, but only after states record a 14-day “downward trajectory” in their coronavirus cases after each phase.
The plan also recommends that hospitals institute a “robust testing program” that includes antibody screenings for healthcare workers before restrictions on businesses and social life are lifted.
The guidance says the recommendations are “implementable on a statewide or county-by-county basis at governors’ discretion.”