BY LAURA KING
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Sunday that federal social distancing guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus would be extended to April 30, setting aside his calls to jump-start the U.S. economy within another two weeks and fill churches on Easter Sunday.
Speaking at a briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Trump said the voluntary guidelines, which were originally put in place for 15 days that would have ended Monday, were being extended because “we just felt it would be too soon” to lift them.
Previously, Trump had expressed impatience with isolation measures that have all but shut down large parts of the economy and upended people’s daily lives. Many stay-at-home orders were imposed by states and municipalities before the federal guidelines took effect; as a result, many of those closures and restrictions would have continued regardless of whether Trump declared he was easing the federal guidelines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, called the guidelines extension a “wise and prudent” decision. Earlier in the day, Fauci said that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans might die in the outbreak, and that millions would be infected — a figure he said he stood by during the briefing.
But he said that without the measures currently in place, the cost in illness and lives would be much worse.
“We feel that the mitigation that we’re doing right now is having an effect,” Fauci said.
BASED ON SCIENCE
After announcing the extension, Trump proceeded to give his administration credit for saving lives, saying “2.2 million people would have died if we didn’t do what we’re doing.”
An academic study suggested earlier this month such a death toll would result if nothing were done to stem the spread.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s coordinator, acknowledged the “sacrifices” being made by ordinary Americans, and said the decision to extend the guidelines was based on science.
Trump had said in recent days he wanted to “open up” the economy and fill the churches on Easter, which falls on April 12. Such talk dismayed leading epidemiologists, who called it an unrealistic scenario if there were to be any hopes of containment.
“That was aspirational,” Trump acknowledged Sunday. Instead, he said “Easter should be the peak number” of deaths, which have surpassed 2,400 nationwide.
The United States has the largest number of reported cases in the world of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
At his briefing, Trump again repeatedly castigated journalists who posed queries that quoted his own earlier statements, and renewed denunciations of China, where the virus emerged in the city of Wuhan.
But he remained upbeat about his own performance.
“We are doing a job, the likes of which have never been done before,” he said. “We did a lot — we did just about maximum.”