Trump hints at discontent with social distancing measures as economy slides

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Halfway through the “15 days” of social distancing the White House recommended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some of President Trump’s social media (and broadcast media) influencers are calling on him to relax the guidelines, which they say have created havoc with the economy as retail shopping, restaurant traffic and tourism have been virtually shut down in some parts of the country.

And the president appears to be listening to them.

“A global recession would be worse for our people than the Great Depression,” wrote Fox News host Laura Ingraham in a Twitter thread Monday morning. “Doctors provide medical treatment and cures — they should not be the determinative voices in policy making now or at the end of 15 days. Even another week of this will mean millions more out of work, massive damage to businesses big and small, rental incomes, families at every income level, horrific pain and suffering. But if we knew this was almost over, recovery would be easier.”

Last week Ingraham tweeted that “Americans need to know date certain when this will end,” referring to the precautions the White House has been urging citizens to take. Medical experts say the measures should stay in place until the pandemic risk has passed, something impossible to predict, but likely to extend past the end of the 15-day period. 

Medical experts say social distancing is the best way to slow the spread of the virus and not overwhelm the health care system. Hospitals are warning of looming shortages in everything from gloves and masks to beds and ventilators. One of the more dire warnings came in the form of a study from Imperial College London that found if the U.S. didn’t take action, 2.2 million people could die

A week ago the president called for 15 days of voluntary social distancing, and he has predicted in public that the pandemic will be over “very soon,” but cases continue to climb. As of Monday, there were more than 40,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and nearly 500 deaths.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Nevertheless, Trump seems eager to get past the containment efforts, and is being encouraged by some of the commentators he listens to.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted late Sunday night in capital letters. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

He then retweeted many supporters who assailed the precautions as economically damaging. If he was watching Fox News on Sunday evening before his tweet, he would have seen host Steve Hilton say that the cure is worse than the disease for working Americans who can’t afford a shutdown. Over the weekend, a number of Fox News personalities shared a post on the blogging platform Medium by a tech employee saying that the reaction to the virus was overblown. After a number of epidemiologists debunked the analysis, Medium removed it.

Members of Congress have proposed direct assistance to workers to help weather the storm of the societal shutdown, suggesting everything from increased unemployment insurance to direct cash payments. Other legislative proposals include rent and mortgage freezes and the cancellation of student debt. Denmark’s government is paying 75 percent of workers’ wages, while the United Kingdom has proposed paying 80 percent of wages during the crisis.

The director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, picked up the point on Fox News Monday, stating, “The cure can’t be worse than the disease. And we’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs.” The comments come a month after Kudlow said about the virus on CNBC, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”

Proposals for the federal government to relax its advisories on social distancing would run counter to the mandatory strictures already in place in states and cities that have been hard hit by the virus.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial that the country “urgently needs a pandemic strategy that is more economically and socially sustainable than the current national lockdown.” The newspaper’s analysis did not take into account the economic and social effects of the hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths that epidemiologists warn could result from a premature ending of the precautions.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NBC News Monday morning, “I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad.

“Right now, there are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously,” said Adams, adding, “Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. So, test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else. Or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home.”

Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue guidance about how people exposed to the virus could return to work by wearing a mask. This comment was echoed by Ingraham in her Monday morning Twitter thread, where she said, “Going back to most jobs after 15 days will require new protocols until this virus burns out — everyone within 6 feet of others MUST wear masks, constant hand washing, gloves, protective goggles if needed.”

Ingraham said that the masks “are fairly easy to make” at home, although hospitals are begging federal and state governments for assistance in acquiring them as supplies run short for those on the frontlines of the fight against the virus.

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