Democratic and Republican governors, as well as local officials, are pushing back against President Trump‘s signals that he wants to restart the economy by Easter, warning that ending strict social distancing practices could put millions of lives at risk.
Governors have ordered residents to practice those distancing procedures, to varying degrees. Many have ordered residents to stay at home, ordered nonessential businesses closed and banned gatherings of all but a few people.
And several say they will keep those orders in place even if Trump rolls back the few national restrictions he has put in place.
“Whatever messages that are coming out of Washington, we are going to make sure we take care of the needs of New Hampshire first,” Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said at a briefing Tuesday. “What we aren’t going to do is overly accelerate or loosen regulations just for the sake of the economy and at the risk of public health.”
Trump has said he wants the economy to reopen by Easter, April 12, though public health experts do not even expect the country to have reached the peak of the outbreak by then.
“I hope the president’s right, let me just say that,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) told reporters on Tuesday. “But the reality of it is, we’re planning this much longer than two weeks here in the state of Missouri. And I think that’s how you do — to make a good plan — how you’re going deal with the crisis.”
In neighboring Kansas, state Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman was taken aback by Trump’s projections of reopening the economy by Easter.
“Did he say what calendar year?” Norman asked.
Trump has increasingly raised the prospect of lifting the restrictions, casting the economic damage from the coronavirus as a cure that’s “worse than the problem itself.” Governors warned that such steps could encourage the virus’s spread.
“We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday on CNN.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has been similarly blunt in his rejection of Trump’s optimism.
“When people are dying and people don’t feel safe, the economy is not going to come back. We have to #FlattenTheCurve so that when the wave comes, it’s not as big as it would have been and we are prepared for it,” he said Tuesday on Twitter. “We are going to get our economy back, but we have to get through it, protect as many lives as we can, and then move forward. I’m looking forward to that day, but it’s not here yet.”
Among Democrats, few have emerged as harsher critics than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has become the epicenter of the American outbreak and whose daily press briefings have become cable news events in their own right.
Cuomo said Tuesday that Trump’s urge to reopen businesses would risk lives.
“I understand what the president’s saying, this is unsustainable, that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money. There is no doubt about that, no one is going to argue about that. But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest,” Cuomo said. “No American is going to say, accelerate the economy, at the cost of human life. Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job one has to be save lives.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said her authority to keep businesses closed and to restrict public activity superseded the president’s powers. She told reporters she expected Trump to leave things to governors, as he told them he would during a phone call earlier this week.
“My priority is keeping Oregonians safe and making sure that we are ensuring that we protect Oregon lives and Oregon livelihoods,” Brown said, according to The Oregonian. “When I was on the phone with [Trump] earlier this week, he clearly said that these difficult decisions are in the hands of governors. So I would expect that it stay that way.”
Even as Trump signals optimism, GOP governors are ratcheting up their own restrictions.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) on Monday ordered anyone entering the state to self-quarantine. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered people arriving from New York and New Jersey to quarantine. The Republican governors of Massachusetts, Georgia, Indiana, Vermont and West Virginia all issued stay-at-home orders in the past two days.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) did not challenge Trump directly, but at a press briefing Monday, before Trump set his Easter goal, Newsom said he did not yet have an expiration date in mind for a stay-at-home order he issued.
“I’ve been very honest about my expectation of what we are going to be challenged with over the course of the next eight weeks as we prepare. And, trust me, as soon as I have more clarity on all of that, I will share it with you, as is my obligation,” Newsom said.