WASHINGTON—The White House is discussing easing social-distancing guidelines as early as next week as advisers and business leaders push President Trump to boost an economy beset by deepening job losses nationwide, people familiar with the discussions said.
The president has told people that he wants to open the economy as soon as possible. The talks have centered on relaxing or restructuring the 15-day guidelines the administration issued last week to stem the spread of coronavirus, one of the people said. Other advisers have cautioned Mr. Trump against easing the guidelines, warning the measures remain necessary.
An administration official said the White House is discussing targeting guidelines for social distancing at vulnerable groups, such as requiring the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions to take greater precautions than younger, healthy people. Such a shift may not happen immediately after the 15-day period ends, the official said, adding that the White House is operating with a “high degree of caution.”
The social-distancing guidelines instructed all Americans to avoid nonessential travel, sit-down restaurants and gatherings of more than 10 people, among other steps. Meanwhile, governors and mayors nationwide have rolled out their own restrictions, shutting schools and many retail businesses.
Easing the guidelines would run counter to public-health experts who have said sustained social distancing is needed until the U.S. develops a vigorous testing regime to identify and isolate cases. Widespread testing is still a long way off and labs now are struggling with supply issues that are further hampering the ability to identify cases. The virus can be spread when people are asymptomatic.
New guidelines are expected later Monday for law enforcement, medical and health-care providers and other workers in critical infrastructure professions for how workers exposed to the virus could return to work more quickly by wearing a medical mask for a certain period of time, Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday. The new guidelines are being developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Pence said.
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In a series of social-media posts late Sunday and early Monday, Mr. Trump expressed concern about the economic drag of the health precautions aimed at the coronavirus crisis. Financial markets have been rattled by the rapid spread of the virus and Congress’s delay in finalizing an economic rescue package, and U.S. job losses are estimated in the millions.
In a Twitter post at 11:50 p.m. in all capital letters, Mr. Trump anticipated the end of the 15-day period in which he has asked the country to follow a set of guidelines—essentially to remain at home as much as possible—to slow the spread of the virus. That 15-day period ends in about a week.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Mr. Trump also highlighted Twitter posts from supporters lamenting the economic hit from coronavirus, including a tweet from a woman with a few hundred Twitter followers who suggested isolating high-risk groups after the 15-day period “and the rest of us get back to work before it’s all over for everyone.”
There has been tension inside the federal government’s coronavirus team for months between the health experts seeking strict measures aimed at limiting the contact between humans and the economic advisers looking to shield the economy as much as possible.
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Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general, said Monday the federal guidelines were working, but that “the problem is that we really need more people to take this seriously.” He said on Fox News: “People, stay at home.”
Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, expressed concern about the economic effects of ordering Americans to stay inside. “At some point you have to ask yourself whether the shutdown is doing more harm than good,” he told CNBC. In a Fox News interview earlier in the day, he said, “We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs,” adding that he had spoken to the president about the matter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday that he spoke to Mr. Trump on Sunday, and that the president “is very pleased with the medical professionals,” particularly attempts to find new drugs to confront the disease.
“The president is hopeful that the policies and procedures that have been put in place will kill this virus quickly,” Mr. Mnuchin said.
At a news conference on Sunday at the White House, Mr. Trump was asked whether he was considering extending the guidelines beyond 15 days after Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) was diagnosed with coronavirus despite not showing any symptoms.
“Well, I hope we won’t have to—it’s possible, but we’ll have to see how that works,” Mr. Trump said.
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—Stephanie Armour contributed to this article.
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