Washington (USA) March 25: U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wanted the United States to be "opened up" by Easter, which falls on April 12 this year, despite warnings that doing so risks failing to contain the escalating spread of the coronavirus.
"I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter," Trump said during a Fox News town hall broadcast from the Rose Garden at the White House.
The president's remarks came as 17 states issued "stay-at-home" orders, either statewide or partially, urging residents not to leave homes except for necessities such as going to grocery store, seeing the doctor and breathing fresh air. Those orders will all take effect by Wednesday.
Trump said his administration will reevaluate its 15-day social distancing guidance aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, suggesting it will expire early next week.
"I guess by Monday or Tuesday, it's about two weeks. We will assess at that time and give it more time if we need a little more time. We have to open this country up," he said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said earlier during the town hall that the administration never considered a nationwide lockdown.
"I can tell you that at no point has the White House Coronavirus Task Force discussed a nationwide lockdown," he told a viewer by phone who had questions about the issue.
By contrast, officials at the state level have been stressing the urgent need to focus on the public health crisis, rather than thinking about resuming economic activities prematurely.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state now has the most confirmed cases and deaths in the country, warned at a news briefing Tuesday against normalizing economic life for the time being.
"We are not going to put a dollar figure on human lives." He said. "No American is going to say 'accelerate the economy at the cost of human life.'"
When announcing a forthcoming order to close all nonessential businesses in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that it is "alarming" that the president would put "the economy over saving lives."
Speaking of the economy, Trump said at the town hall, "The faster we go back, the better it's going to be."
Pence, for his part, said the federal government will focus on the "most vulnerable" while finding ways to "open America back up," adding that Trump has sought recommendations from the task force team on "how we do both."
"Over the months ahead, we'll focus on our most vulnerable, but putting America back to work will also be a priority, as the president said, in weeks, and not months," said Pence.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been negotiating a stimulus package worth 2 trillion U.S. dollars to buttress the economy amid the pandemic.
Following days of shuttle negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin all said a deal is within reach.
Mnuchin told reporters that "a small number of issues" remained to be resolved as of Tuesday morning, adding that "we are looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNBC on Tuesday morning that there was "real optimism" that a piece of legislation that is "much more worker-oriented" than McConnell's original proposal will be agreed upon.