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Trump Extends Virus Guidelines         03/30 06:09

   Bracing the nation for a death toll that could exceed 100,000 people, 
President Donald Trump on Sunday extended restrictive social distancing 
guidelines through April, bowing to public-health experts who presented him 
with even more dire projections for the expanding coronavirus pandemic.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bracing the nation for a death toll that could exceed 
100,000 people, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended restrictive social 
distancing guidelines through April, bowing to public-health experts who 
presented him with even more dire projections for the expanding coronavirus 
pandemic.

   It was a stark shift in tone by the president, who only days ago mused about 
the country reopening in a few weeks. From the Rose Garden, he said his Easter 
revival hopes had only been "aspirational."

   The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal 
government expires Monday and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the 
national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the 
pandemic. He instead decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit 
acknowledgment he'd been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have 
stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

   Trump's impulse to reopen the country met a sober reality check Sunday from 
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, who said the 
U.S. could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from 
the pandemic. That warning hardened a recognition in Washington that the 
struggle against the coronavirus will not be resolved quickly even as Trump 
expressed a longing for normalcy.

   "I want our life back again," the president told reporters.

   Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, 
cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could 
have died had social distancing measures not been put in place. And he said the 
country would be doing well if it "can hold" the number of deaths "down to 
100,000." He said the best case for the country would be for the death rate to 
peak in about two weeks.

   "It's a horrible number," Trump said, but added, "We all together have done 
a very good job."

   Brought forward by Trump at the outdoor briefing, Fauci said his projection 
of a potential 100,000 to 200,000 deaths is "entirely conceivable" if not 
enough is done to mitigate the crisis. He said that helped shape the extension 
of the guidelines, which he called "a wise and prudent decision."

   Americans are now being called on to prepare for another 30 days of severe 
economic and social disruption, as schools and businesses are closed and public 
life is upended. One in 3 Americans remain under state or local government 
orders to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

   Trump acknowledged that he may be forced to extend the guidelines again at 
the end of April, but expressed hope that by June 1, "we should be well on our 
way to recovery."

   The federal guidelines recommend against group gatherings larger than 10 and 
urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home. People 
are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, 
non-essential travel and shopping trips.

   For more than a week, Trump had been bombarded by calls from outside 
business leaders who urged him to begin re-opening the nation's economy and 
warned of catastrophic consequences that could damage his re-election chances 
if it remained shuttered for much longer. 

   "The president is right. The cure can't be worse than the disease, and we're 
going to have to make some difficult trade-offs," Trump's top economic adviser 
Larry Kudlow had said last Monday, reflecting the thinking of his economic team.

   That talk alarmed health experts, who urged Trump to keep encouraging people 
to stay home. The virus was still spreading, with the peak still weeks away, 
the experts warned.

   In the end, Trump, in the face of dire projections and increasingly alarming 
images out of New York, sided with his health experts and backed off the idea 
of loosening recommended restrictions on less impacted parts of the country.

   "They're the best in the profession and they didn't like that idea," he said 
of Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force.

   Trump was clearly moved by the scenes from New York, particularly hard-hit 
Elmhurst Hospital in his native Queens.

   "I've been watching that for the last week on television," he said. "Body 
bags all over, in hallways. I've been watching them bring in trailer trucks --- 
freezer trucks, they're freezer trucks, because they can't handle the bodies, 
there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community, in Queens, 
Queens, New York," he continued. "I've seen things that I've never seen before."

   Phasing out the recommendations would have been a symbolic nod to business 
and an affront to public health experts, but may have had little practical 
impact. States across the country already have their own restrictions in place 
that, in many cases, are far stricter than the administration's, and those 
would have remained in place.

   Birx and Fauci said even those areas yet to face a significant outbreak must 
prepare for the eventuality that they will.

   "This can happen anywhere," Fauci said. "And that's really one of the issues 
that we're concerned about and why we were so reluctant to pull back at a time 
when we need to put our foot on the gas as opposed to on the brake."

   The U.S. had more than 139,000 COVID-19 cases reported by Sunday evening, 
with more than 2,400 deaths. During the course of the Rose Garden briefing, 
reported deaths grew by several dozen and the number of cases by several 
thousand.

   Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can 
include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring 
hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with 
other health problems. Hospitals in the most afflicted areas are straining to 
handle patients and some are short of critical supplies.

   Fauci's prediction would take the death toll well past that of the average 
seasonal flu. Trump repeatedly cited the flu's comparatively much higher cost 
in lives in playing down the severity of this pandemic.

   Trump's change in tone was previewed Saturday, when the president suggested 
then backed away from instituting an "enforceable" quarantine of hard-hit New 
York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Instead, the White House task force 
recommended a travel advisory for residents of those states to limit 
non-essential travel to slow the spread of the virus to other parts of the U.S. 

   The quarantine notion was strongly opposed by the governors of those states, 
who argued it would cause panic.

   Even as he opted against the quarantine, Trump on Sunday suggested without 
evidence that hospitals and hospital systems were "hoarding" ventilators and 
other medical supplies that were needed in other areas of the state. He also 
encouraged the Food and Drug Administration to streamline approvals for 
companies seeking to sanitize badly needed respirators so they can be reused.

   For weeks, Trump minimized the gravity of the pandemic, and House Speaker 
Nancy Pelosi on Sunday accused Trump of "denial" in the crisis and called it 
"deadly."

   Asked whether she believes that attitude cost American lives, Pelosi told 
CNN: "Yes, I am. I'm saying that."

   Former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, 
said he wouldn't go so far as to lay the blame for deaths on the president. "I 
think that's a little too harsh," he told NBC.


(KR)

 
 
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