The White House warned of an alarming spread in New York City, but the president said “our country wasn’t built to be shut down.”
President Trump hints at a short shutdown: “I’m not looking at months.”
President Trump, in a nearly two-hour coronavirus briefing, hinted on Monday that the economic shutdown meant to halt the spread of the virus across the country would not be extended.
“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” he said. “America will again and soon be open for business,” the president added, without providing a timeline for when he believes normal economic activity could resume.
“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s shut down the entire world,” Mr. Trump said. “This could create a much bigger problem than the problem that you started out with.”
He later added, “I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now.”
Mr. Trump sent mixed signals from the White House lectern, agreeing at one point with his surgeon general and saying, “It’s going to be bad,” then suggesting that the response to the virus may have been overblown.
“This is going away. We’re going to win the battle,” Mr. Trump said, citing jobs, “anxiety and depression” and suicide as arguments for restoring the U.S. economy.
He compared deaths from the novel coronavirus to deaths from other causes — influenza and car crashes — suggesting that the scale of those preventable deaths means economic restrictions may not be appropriate to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We have a very active flu season, more active than most,” he said “It’s looking like it’s heading to 50,000 or more deaths — not cases, 50,000 deaths. Which is — that’s a lot. And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody, ‘No more driving of cars.’ So we have to do things to get our country open.”
While it is true that those causes of death outnumber deaths from the virus to date, projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that deaths from Covid-19 could range from 200,000 to 1.7 million people. Estimates from other scientists place the potential deaths in a range from several hundred thousand to several million deaths, substantially more than annual deaths from car accidents and flu combined.
Mr. Trump also suggested the economic contraction caused by restrictions on commerce and travel to prevent spread of the coronavirus could lead to large-scale fatalities from suicide — “probably more death from that than anything we’re talking about with respect to the virus,” he said. The number of suicides in the country would need to quadruple to approach the low end of the estimates for possible coronavirus deaths.
The White House team warns of an alarming “attack rate” in New York.
Even as the president seemed to see an end to the crisis, his team warned of an alarming spread in New York.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said that the New York metro area is experiencing a virus “attack rate” of nearly one in a thousand, or five times that of other areas.
In epidemiology, the attack rate is the percentage of a population that has a disease. In New York City itself, where there have been 12,339 cases in a population of 8.6 million, the attack rate works out to about 1 in 700. The city has about a third of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases.
Dr. Birx added that 28 percent of tests for the coronavirus in the region were coming up positive, while in the rest of the country the rate is less than 8 percent.
“So to all of my friends and colleagues in New York, this is the group that needs to absolutely social distance and self-isolate at this time,” Dr. Birx said. “Clearly, the virus had been circulating there for a number of weeks to have this level of penetrance into the general community.”
New York has tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus by closing its schools, shutting down its nonessential businesses and urging its residents to stay home almost around the clock. But it faces a distinct obstacle in trying to stem new cases: its cheek-by-jowl density.
New York is far more crowded than any other major city in the United States. It has 28,000 residents per square mile, while San Francisco, the next most jammed city, has 17,000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
All of those people, in such a small space, appear to have helped the virus spread rapidly, making New York the nation’s center of the outbreak. “Density is really an enemy in a situation like this,” said Dr. Steven Goodman, an epidemiologist at Stanford University. “With large population centers, where people are interacting with more people all the time, that’s where it’s going to spread the fastest.”
The president pushes malaria medications, despite caution from doctors.
President Trump continued to push two traditional malaria medications, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, in combination with a common antibiotic, azithromycin, as a treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, despite caution by the government’s top doctors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has appeared frequently at the president’s side at coronavirus briefings, was not present for Mr. Trump’s latest briefing. Mr. Trump has been frustrated in recent days by some of Mr. Fauci’s public commentary contradicting his remarks.
Mr. Trump said that 10,000 units of chloroquine would be distributed in New York City on Tuesday. Dr. Fauci and others have said that its effectiveness remains highly uncertain. In fact, Banner Health, a hospital system in Arizona, reported on Monday that a man died and his wife was in stable condition after the couple self-medicated with a formulation of chloroquine phosphate that is used to clean fish tanks.
But Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm is undimmed.
“It would be a gift from God,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s something we have to try.”
States and cities order over 158 million Americans to stay home.
As President Trump suggested that he would soon re-evaluate the federal guidance urging social distancing, more states moved on Monday to impose their own sweeping stay-at-home orders, which will soon cover more than 158 million Americans in 16 states.
Washington, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Oregon became the latest states to announce sweeping directives to keep more people home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus before it overwhelms the capacities of their hospitals to treat the sick.
“Stay at home,” Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana, a Republican, said Monday as he issued an order aimed to keep people indoors in his state, which he noted was in line with what other states were doing. “I’m telling you, the next two weeks are critical.”
See Which States and Cities Have Told Residents to Stay at Home
As states attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus, nearly half of all Americans will soon be under instructions to stay at home.
The White House issued guidance last week urging Americans to avoid large gatherings, to work from home and to maintain distance from one another for an initial 15-day period.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious diseases expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said in interviews that he believed it would take several more weeks before people could start going about their lives in a more normal fashion. Other infectious disease experts suggest even harsher measures than social distancing are required to truly beat back the outbreaks in the United States.
The president’s interest in potentially easing some of the social behavior guidelines met with pushback from one of his close allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.
“President Trump’s best decision was stopping travel from China early on,” Mr. Graham tweeted on Monday. “I hope we will not undercut that decision by suggesting we back off aggressive containment policies within the United States.”
And on Monday morning, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, issued a stark warning in an appearance on NBC: “This week, it’s going to get bad,” he said, urging more Americans to take social distancing seriously.