WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the country back to business by April 12, Easter Sunday, when he would like to see churches full of people, even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
"I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter," Trump said during a Fox News interview.
Trump said he'd like to see "churches packed full of people for Easter," but that the timeline wasn't based on data indicating the public health risk could be gone by then. Rather, the president said at a White House briefing, he “just thought it was a beautiful time.” Trump said he would listen to the advice of his top health officials.
Trump is “continuing to evaluate the data, working with the task force, and making decisions based on the interests of our fantastic country," he said.
Tony Fauci, the top infectious disease researcher at the National Institutes of Health who has at times countered Trump's messaging, indicated he had discussed a possible timeline with the president before the briefing.
"You can look at the date, but you've got to be very flexible on it literally on a day by day, week by week basis," Fauci said. "You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you're trying to do, "
Public health experts and local and state leaders have cautioned against easing restrictions too early, saying it could put an enormous strain on hospitals and lead to even more deaths and economic damage. But Trump said Tuesday that he believed the human toll would be greater should Americans continue to stay at home.
"This cure is worse than the problem," Trump said during a Fox News interview earlier in the day, adding that "in my opinion, more people are going to die if we allow this to continue."
At the same time, the White House issued strict new guidelines for people who have traveled to New York City, recommending they self-quarantine for 14 days if they recently left the region.
A White House official said the president does not view Easter as a date that he can begin to open things up, but a date by which the economy is speeding again. That means the loosening of restrictions would, under this scenario, start much sooner. The official says the focus now remains on how to get there, in phases, to address the challenges demographically and geographically.
Trump said people can continue to practice good hygiene and social distancing even while going back to work to try to control the virus' spread.
Trump on Tuesday expressed frustration with the economic consequences of having millions of Americans staying home and compared the coronavirus to the flu, despite public experts cautioning against the comparison.
"We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu, we don't turn the country off every year," he said.
Administration officials, eager to get the country back to business, have grown increasingly concerned in recent days about the economic impact the tight restrictions on movement and social interactions are having. These officials said they worry that the White House went too far in allowing public health experts to set policy and that their actions did not need to be so draconian.
The push for Americans to stay home, championed by public health experts, is aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and "flattening the curve" of new cases. Officials in Italy were slow to isolate affected regions and limit movement, leading to one of the world's worst outbreaks so far.
While Trump may want to see American life return to normal, many governors and mayors are the ones putting orders in place telling residents to stay at home and closing schools, restaurants and bars. On Monday, Michigan's governor issued a three-week order telling people not to gather in public or private with people who are not part of their household, with some exceptions, and Virginia closed its schools for the rest of the year.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday strongly pushed back on calls to ease health guidelines in hopes of boosting the economy, saying that "we will not put a dollar figure on human life."
"We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one," he tweeted. "No one should be talking about social darwinism for the sake of the stock market."