Health officials bearish on administration effort to open economy by May

Health officials bearish on administration effort to open economy by May

But his most recent comments Friday represent a more conspicuous break with other senior administration officials who have been increasingly outspoken regarding their desire to reopen the U.S. economy as it tumbles further into recession and notches historic unemployment numbers.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told POLITICO Tuesday it was possible to restart the economy “in the next four to eight weeks,” and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin endorsed a prediction Thursday on CNBC that “we could be open for business in the month of May” if public health experts approve.

Meanwhile, the president is creating an economic recovery task force inside the White House, staffed by, among others, Kudlow, Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, to study a potential reopening of the economy.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be opening up … very, very, very, very soon, I hope,” Trump said Thursday at the daily White House coronavirus briefing.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared less optimistic Friday when asked whether he was comfortable with the May 1 opening date, insisting that “the virus kind of decides whether or not it’s going to be appropriate to open or not.” 

“I would want to see a clear indication that you are very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation,” he told CNN.

Fauci has previously warned the coronavirus could reemerge in the fall as a “seasonal, cyclic” threat.

Reopening the country would also require “substantial expansion of public health fieldworkers” to help monitor Americans who have come into contact with those who are infected, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.

More than 600 CDC employees are stationed around the country assisting with coronavirus response efforts, Redfield told NPR, but the agency is “going to have to substantially amplify” that workforce to ramp up contact tracing.

“Obviously, if we’re going to try to get this nation back to work shortly after the end of this month, we’re far along in those planning processes, as we speak,” he said.

Although New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., recorded 777 deaths Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was nonetheless able to point to a rare bright spot at his daily news conference: The statewide ICU headcount was down 17, the first decline since the outbreak began.

“That means there are fewer people in the intensive care units statewide than there were. And again, that’s the first time we’ve seen a negative number, so that’s good,” Cuomo said. “The three-day average of that is down. A change in intubations is a tick higher than it’s been the last few days, but it’s overall down. The three-day average is also down.”

Roughly 5,000 people statewide are in the ICU currently, and more than 4,000 have been intubated. Currently, there are about 18,500 people in the hospital as a result of Covid-19.

In New Jersey, where Covid-19-related deaths are expected to eclipse 2,000 over the weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy said that he’s seeing some light at the end of the tunnel as the state navigates its worst public health crisis in more than a century.

Growth of new cases in Bergen County, so far the Garden State’s hardest hit community, has begun to plateau. Evidence suggests the growth curve in new cases is flattening elsewhere as well.

And while the number coronavirus-related hospitalizations continue to climb, the state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said she believes the state’s hospital systems added an adequate number of critical and intensive beds to withstand a surge.

Shortfalls in PPE, health care staff, ventilators and medications continue to bedevil state officials, however. Murphy, who’s traditionally been hesitant to borrow, also on Friday said he’s weighing using his emergency power to take out debt in order to meet the growing costs of the pandemic.
“Everything’s on the table,” Murphy said. “This is a power that we have and this is something we are looking closely at.”

Nick Niedzwiadek and Sam Sutton contributed to this report.

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