WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would like to see the country "back to work" by Easter, or Sunday, April 12, as he considers easing stringent social-distancing guidelines put in place to stem the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak across the U.S.
"We'll only do it if it's good. I just thought it was a beautiful time," Trump told reporters when asked who came up with the timeline or whether there was any medical significance for the date at a White House press briefing Tuesday evening.
The president earlier suggested the date during a televised Fox News town hall Tuesday as he expressed concerned about the economic fallout of keeping businesses closed and keeping Americans at home amid the pandemic.
"I would love to have the country, opened up and just raring to go by Easter," Trump told Fox News in the Rose Garden.
The president noted Easter comes weeks after the 15-day period in which Americans have been asked to stay home to slow the rise in cases of COVID-19, which ends Monday. The coronavirus task force guidelines are voluntary but many states and cities have issued their own stricter orders, including telling residents to "shelter-in-place" and shuttering schools and businesses.
Asked if it’s possible for the country to return to normal by Easter, Trump said, “I think it’s absolutely possible. Now, people are going to have to practice all of the social distancing and things we’re doing now. ... But we have to get our country back to work.”
Trump has said he is looking at easing the health restrictions, which have crippled the U.S. economy, even as experts warn of a worsening crisis as the number of cases continues to climb and health workers and hospitals face a shortage of medical supplies.
The U.S. death toll reached 696 Tuesday, after growing by more than 100 in the previous 24-hour period. The country had more than 53,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, trailing only Italy and China. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned Americans on Monday, "this week it's going to get bad."
Trump doubled down on the Easter deadline during a separate Fox interview after the town hall.
"Wouldn't it be great to have all of the churches full?" he said. "You'll have packed churches all over our country. I think it’ll be a beautiful time."
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force and the country's leading expert on infectious diseases, said the Easter deadline was "flexible" and needs to be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
“No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City,” he told reporters at the press briefing, adding that areas of the country that don’t have obvious outbreaks should be looked at further.
“If we do the kind of testing that we’re doing ... and you find after a period of time that there are areas that are very different from other areas of the country, you may not want to essentially treat it as one force for the entire country.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, who leads the coronavirus task force, said any date would be evaluated based on data that is still being collected and suggested restrictions could remain in place for hard-hit areas like New York City.
Birx urged peopled who left New York metro area, where 56% of all U.S. cases have, to self-quarantine for 14 days after their departure
Shortly after Trump’s remarks, three major U.S. health organizations – representing the nation’s doctors, nurses and hospitals – issued a public plea to Americans to stay home.
“Staying at home in this urgent moment is our best defense to turn the tide against COVID-19,” wrote the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, and American Nurses Association in an open letter. “Physicians, nurses and health care workers are staying at work for you. Please stay at home for us.”
Health officials and lawmakers have said that lifting the social distancing restrictions could be disastrous for both the U.S. economy and for public health.
“There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, tweeted on Tuesday.
Trump’s comments come as other foreign leaders enacted stricter measures to combat the pandemic. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a “total lockdown” in the country of 1.3 billion people for 21 days, while an International Olympic Committee member revealed this year's games would be postponed.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Trump sets Easter deadline to reopen country