THREE-PHASE PLAN EXPLAINED
by Sharon Rondeau
In his 4:30 press conference Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont confirmed the introduction of the three-phase outline, which envisions the timeline of recovery left to individual governors.
President Trump began the 6:00 p.m. presser to reflect on the Americans lost to the coronavirus since its arrival in the U.S. in late January. As he has before, he said that the U.S. has “done more testing than any other country.”
“Hundreds of thousands of lives” have been saved, based on the 2.2 million deaths predicted, as a result of mitigation efforts and the work of the U.S. military, he said.
He recognized truckers and other food suppliers for their continued work during the pandemic.
“Our experts say the curve has flattened,” he said, and many areas “have reported no new cases in the last seven days.”
“In America, no person who has needed a ventilator has been denied a ventilator,” he said. “We’ve delivered thousands and thousands of ventilators to the states….We started with very little and ended with a lot.”
He said the “team of experts” agrees that “we can begin the new front in our war.” “We’re opening up our country, and we have to do that…a national shutdown is not a sustainable, long-term solution,” he said.
He said supply chains have a “delicate balance” and in order for it to work well, an adequate workforce must be maintained.
Trump said he fears alcohol and drug abuse, mental-health issues and other challenges as a result of the shutdown. One hundred eighty-four other countries have suffered along with the U.S., he said.
He reported the call with the governors, with whom he said “the relationship has been good.”
He thanked Task Force Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx for assembling the guidelines about to be revelaed. He complimented NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and said, “We’ve all worked together well…we took the greatest economy in the history of the world and we closed it in order to win this war, and we’re in the process of winning it now.”
“We are not opening it all at once,” he said, and some states will be able to open sooner than others.
He said the U.S. has “passed the peak in new cases.”
The new guidelines will “continue to protect senior citizens,” he said, and the military will continue its work.
“The highest-risk individuals” will be “sheltered,” Trump said, and benchmarks must be met in order to proceed to the “next phase.”
As coronavirus cases decrease, he said, more restrictions will be lifted.
“Every state is very different,” he said, and therefore, governors will make key decisions. “We will provide them the freedom and guidance” to move forward, he said.
“Continued hardships and challenges” will be encountered during the reopening, he said. The guidelines encompass dealing with a resurgence of the virus in the fall, he said.
“At least 35 clinical trials are already under way,” he said, involving convalescent plasma and other therapies. “They’ve come a long way; what’s been done in the last four weeks has been incredible.”
More than 3.5 million coronavirus tests have been conducted, Trump said. Hospitals and academic institutions have increased their daily testing, he reported. Laboratories are conducting fewer tests as a result of new means of testing, he said.
“Testing is at an all-time high…we don’t have to use the laboratories, but they’re there, and they have a great capacity to do the work,” he said. “…Our capabilities are growing every single day.”
He said the “reopening” will be “science-based.”
“The sacrifices our citizens have made will be remembered for generations to come,” he said, and declared the issue apolitical.
At 6:24, he called upon Birx and Vice President Mike Pence to further explain the reopening strategy. He complimented Pence for working “24 hours a day” on the Coronavirus Task Force.
“The best science and the best common sense” went into the new guidelines, Pence said. More than 640,000 Americans have tested positive for the virus, he reported. He commended Trump for placing a travel ban on China and Europe after the virus reached America’s shores.
He said the “curve” is being flattened and the “spread” has been slowed. “We can see it in the numbers,” he said, pointing to two charts on either side of the podium.
“It is our intention, at the president’s direction,” Pence said, for governors to reopen their respective states when they deem it ready. “Our administration will continue to work day-in and day-out…to ensure that our states have not only the medical supplies, but that we continue to expand testing across the nation,” he said.
“There is a focus in the president’s new guidelines on the most vulnerable,” he continued, and the guidelines can be applied to a state or a county.
Pence thanked Birx for developing the strategy, at which time Birx spoke about the role of the CDC over many years in following “flu-like illnesses” (FLI).
She said one criterion for reopening is that there must be a “downward trajectory for 14 days.” A graph to which she referred showed emergency-room visits in Metairie, LA beginning in early March for FLI episodes.
A second graph showed coronavirus “declining to baseline,” Birx said.
An ongoing focus will be to identify “asymptomatic” individuals through “sentinel surveillance,” she said.
“We want every state to have a plan for the health and safety of its workers in critical industries,” she said.
Some states have not experienced “a major metro outbreak,” she reported, which often occur in nursing homes.
“Guidelines for all phases” include the initial guidelines of hand-washing, not touching one’s face, and staying home from work when one is ill.
“Contact-tracing” should be done after someone shows symptoms, she said.
“Physical distancing of six feet” should still be observed, she said. If a “vulnerable population” must return to work, she said, “teleworking” should be considered. Schools “already closed should remain closed,” she said.
Gyms can reopen if “strict distancing” can be observed, she said.
“Phase Two” will begin if new cases go down after 14 days, she explained, in which “vulnerable individuals” will “continue to shelter in place” and “non-essential travel can resume.”
“Schools, daycares and camps can reopen” in Phase Two, Birx said, as well as elective surgeries.
The third phase is a “new normal,” she said, encompassing distancing, contact-tracing when someone becomes ill, and continued “sentinel surveillance.”
Fauci took the podium and reiterated that returning to some form of “normal” is not “like a light switch.” “The dominating drive of this was to make sure that this is done in the safest way possible,” Fauci said.
“Gating-in” to the recovery is the “first hurdle,” he said, and has already been achieved by some states. “You go into Phase One if you get no rebound,” he said, and the same to proceed to Phase Two.
Fauci recalled that he “pleaded with the American public” to continue mitigation after Trump’s original 15-day campaign to “slow the spread” expired at the end of March.
“Not every state, not every region” is going to reach the phases at the same time, he said. “No matter what phase you’re in, there are certain fundamental things that should be done…it may very well be…that there’ll be this virus that wants to come back to us,” Fauci said. “I think we’re going to be able to handle it,” he concluded his remarks.
The first question, from ABC’s Jonathan Karl, asked if a “Phase Four” will include typical sports events with crowded arenas, to which Fauci replied that it is possible but “there may be some setbacks…” “I do see us getting more towards normal,” he said.
Fox News’s John Roberts asked if any of the governors said, “We’re already there,” meaning having reached the “gating-in” point, to which Trump nodded in the affirmative. He said that vaccines and other therapeutics have advanced and that initially, sports will be played in empty stadiums “like the old days.”
The original guidelines are “in place” according to each governor’s decisions, Trump said.
Karl asked Trump if protesters in Michigan on Wednesday were not showing recalcitrance in following the guidelines. The state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, imposed what many see as the most restrictive guidelines in the country.
Trump said those protesting “seem to like me” and said he understood their frustration.
Roberts asked when more money might be appropriate for the Payroll Protection Program, which ran out of funds today. Trump said he is optimistic that Congress will eventually agree on more appropriations and complimented the banks which agreed to disburse the money to small businesses.
Update, 7:23 p.m. EDT: The White House has published the guidelines here.