President Donald Trump laid out new guidelines on Thursday for U.S. states to emerge from a coronavirus shutdown in a staggered, three-stage approach meant to revive the U.S. economy even as the country continues to fight the pandemic.
The recommendations call on states to show a “downward trajectory” of COVID-19 cases or positive tests for the disease over 14 days before proceeding with the plan, which gradually loosens restrictions on businesses that have been shuttered to blunt the spread of the virus.
“We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Trump told reporters at the White House. The president had said earlier this month he wanted to reopen the economy with a “big bang.”
The plan is a set of recommendations for state governors, not orders. In that sense, it represents a backdown by Trump, who on Monday insisted he had total authority to direct states to re-open or remain closed. The responsibility for such decisions lies with state, not federal, authorities.
With the onus on governors, the plan also gives Trump political cover if not everything goes well. The president, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, has faced criticism for downplaying the seriousness of the virus in the early weeks of the outbreak.
The recommendations drew criticism from Ron Klain, who spearheaded the Obama administration’s response to Ebola and has advised former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
“This isn’t a plan. It’s barely a powerpoint,” he said on Twitter, noting it did not include provisions to ramp up testing or set a specific standard for levels of the disease before economic opening.
Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden said testing was key to opening the country and criticized Trump’s presentation for lacking specifics.