WASHINGTON - In a town hall hosted by FOX News, President Donald Trump said that he "would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter."
"I think it's possible, why isn't it?" the president said. "In my opinion many people, more people are going to die if we allow this to continue," Trump said. "We have to get people back to work."
As many public health officials call for stricter, not looser restrictions on public interactions, Trump said he was already looking toward easing the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown.
"You can't compare this to 1918," the president remarked, referring to the Spanish flu, a pandemic in which the death toll was estimated to be in the millions.
Health experts have made clear that unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction — staying home from work and isolating themselves — the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, as it has in parts of Italy, leading to many more deaths. While the worst outbreaks are concentrated in certain parts of the country, such as New York, experts warn that the highly infectious disease is certain to spread.
The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged stringent guidelines on helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, frequent and vigorous handwashing, and practicing respiratory hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided similar guidelines.
The WHO tweeted on Monday about the urgent need for more aggressive tactics to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, said the COVID-19 outbreak is accelerating, but insisted that "we can change the trajectory of this pandemic."
Tedros said the world can’t win against the virus by defending. “You have to attack as well."
“Asking people to #StayHome & other physical distancing measures are important to slow down the spread of the #coronavirus & buy time, but they're defensive measures,“ Tedros said.
"To win, we need to attack the #coronavirus with aggressive and targeted tactics – testing every suspected #COVID19 case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact," added Tedros.
Trump made his comments following the stay-at-home orders issued by multiple states across the country.
“I gave it two weeks,” Trump said during the virtual town hall from the Rose Garden. He argued that tens of thousands of Americans die from the seasonal flu or in automobile accidents and “we don’t turn the country off.”
“We’ll assess at that time and we’ll give it some more time if we need a little more time, but we need to open this country up,” he added. “We have to go back to work, much sooner than people thought.”
Appearing before the president at the virtual town hall, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump has asked for recommendations from the White House coronavirus task force for how he can send people back to work while minimizing the public health risk. He said Trump wants to find a way “to open America back up.”
Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.
Also in the town hall, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said, citing current recovery rates, that most who are infected with COVID-19 in the United states will recover.
Adams had warned on NBC's Today Show Monday that the outbreak in the U.S. would accelerate. "This week, it's going to get bad," Adams said. Adams' grim prediction was borne out by Tuesday, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported the state's rate of new infections was doubling about every three days.
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Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic, saying the infection rate in New York is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.
“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” Cuomo said during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”
Cuomo was not the only governor raising an alarm about what is to come as the pandemic surges across the U.S.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday he would close parking lots at dozens of beaches and state parks to prevent the spread of coronavirus after large groups flocked to the coast and mountains to get outdoors on the first weekend since the state’s stay-at-home order took effect.
Newsom said the state was short 50,000 hospital beds and needed to procure hundreds of millions of rubber gloves, masks and gowns for health care workers to protect themselves during an anticipated three-month surge in treating patients with the virus.
“We’re talking in the magnitude of tens of millions, in some cases hundreds of millions of units of personal protective gear,” Newsom said. “It’s going to take an heroic effort.”
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles officials announced plans to expand coronavirus testing, promising up to 5,000 tests a day by Friday, significantly ramping up an effort that has lagged nationwide amid the outbreak.
“The U.S. has fallen behind other nations in response to this pandemic,” City Councilman David Ryu said. “We need to take action ourselves. Los Angeles is not going to wait around.”
President Donald Trump assured Americans early this month that the COVID-19 test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “perfect” and that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.” But more than two months after the first U.S. case of the new disease was confirmed, many people still cannot get tested.
When asked at the FOX News town hall how Americans could right now acquire a self test, which has been touted by Trump as a way to increase the country's testing capacity, the U.S. Surgeon General discussed how there had been increases of testing production and implementation across the country but did not specify an availability date.
Dr. Deborah Birx clarified that a self-test was not an at-home test, but more one that could be conducted through safe drive-thru testing locations. Birx also reiterated the need to test in areas "that really have the problems."
In the critical month of February, as the virus began taking root in the U.S. population, CDC data shows government labs processed 352 COVID-19 tests — an average of only a dozen per day.
“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded,” the WHO's Tedros said at a recent briefing. “We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”
Even as private labs have been cleared by government regulators to process tens of thousands of additional tests in the last two weeks, experts warn that the nation is still falling well short of enough testing capacity to keep ahead of the highly contagious virus. And it can often take a week just to get results back.
Trump last week rated his administration’s response to the crisis as a perfect 10. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the CDC's system wasn't designed to test for and track a widespread outbreak, which he characterized as “a failing.”
The Associated Press, Austin Williams and KTVU contributed to this report.