President Donald Trump on Monday said he would soon lift severe restrictions seeking to keep Americans in their homes to slow the spread of COVID-19, saying the country wasn’t meant to be shut down.
Trump’s openness to lifting the social limits that have been in place for about a week to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus comes as the U.S. death toll rose above 500 on Monday and states continued to announce stricter guidance for their residents.
The White House last week recommended restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people. Federal officials urged people to work or do schooling from home and avoid eating or drinking at bars and restaurants but opt instead for pick-up or delivery.
Trump, speaking at a Monday evening White House press conference, did not specify when he expected to lift the restrictions. He said he did not expect the restrictions to last for months, as some public health experts have suggested could be necessary to stop the spread of the virus.
"This was a medical problem. We're not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem," Trump said.
Late Sunday night, Trump had begun signaling frustration with the restrictions that have led to a stock market decline and erased many of the economic gains made since he was sworn in as president.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” he tweeted Sunday night.
Asked whether medical professionals on his team supported his plan to quickly reopen businesses that have shuttered, Trump did not say they had.
“I think they’re okay with it. I’m okay with it,” he said.
"If it were up to the doctors, they may say let's keep it shut down — let's shut down the entire world,” he added.
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response task force coordinator, did not say whether she thought the government should loosen the restrictions next week. Members of the task force will compile data this week to make recommendations to Trump before next Monday, when the initial 15 days would be up, she said.
“We were going to have to do it this week, anyway, because we had to make a decision come Monday about the 15 days to reduce social spread,” Birx said.
Meanwhile, governors of a handful of states have told residents to shelter in place. Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that schools in the state would be closed for the rest of the academic year.
Attorney General William Barr announced a task force to crack down on the hoarding and price gouging of health and medical supplies. Barr said Trump signed an executive order that would allow the administration to designate certain materials as scarce, although officials have not yet put the label on any materials.
Barr warned that hoarding toilet paper, as many Americans have done in the past few weeks, would not be prohibited, but hoarding masks may be.
Trump also announced that the REAL ID requirements on drivers' licenses that were set to take effect in October would be delayed, although he did not say until when.
Administration officials did not announce at the briefing additional guidance for critical infrastructure workers, like first responders, to return to work more quickly if they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic and wore a mask. Vice President Mike Pence had said earlier in the day that could be released by the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.