President Donald Trump has given governors guidance on reopening state economies in the coming months as the new coronavirus continues to spread across the US.
“Opening up America Again” guidelines outline three phases for states to gradually ease their lockdowns.
President Trump promised governors they would be handling the process themselves, with help from the federal government.
However, there has been a mixed reception to the plans, with a leading Democrat calling them vague and inconsistent.
The US currently has 699,044 confirmed cases and 36,849 deaths due to the virus, and President Trump has suggested some states could reopen this month.
In his daily briefing on April 16, the president declared “the next front in our war – opening up America again”.
He said: “America wants to be open and Americans want to be open. A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution.”
The president said that a prolonged lockdown risked inflicting a serious toll on public health. He warned of a “sharp rise” in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, heart disease, and other “physical and mental” problems.
He told reporters that healthy citizens would be able to return to work “as conditions allow”. He said Americans would continue to be called upon to maintain social distancing measures and to stay home if they are unwell.
President Trump said that reopening the US economy would be done “one careful step at a time” but he called on state governors to move “very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do”.
Shortly afterwards, leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, called the new guidelines “vague and inconsistent”.
Nancy Pelosi said the document did “nothing to make up for the president’s failure to listen to the scientists and produce and distribute national rapid testing”.
The Trump administration’s 18-page guidance document details three phases to reopen state economies, with each phase lasting, at minimum, 14 days.
The guidelines include some recommendations across all three phases including good personal hygiene and employers developing policies to ensure social distancing, testing and contact tracing.
Phase one includes much of the current lockdown measures such as avoiding non-essential travel and not gathering in groups. But it says large venues such as restaurants, places of worship and sports venues “can operate under strict physical distancing protocols”.
If there is no evidence of a resurgence of the coronavirus, phase two allows non-essential travel to resume. The guidance says schools can reopen and bars can operate “with diminished standing-room occupancy”.
Under phase three, states which are still seeing a downward trend of symptoms and cases can allow “public interactions” with physical distancing and the unrestricted staffing of worksites. Visits to care homes and hospitals can resume and bars can increase their standing room capacity.
According to the document, some regions could begin returning to normal after a month-long evaluation period, at the earliest.
In places where there are more infections or where rates begin to rise, it could take longer.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, told at the April 16 briefing that as states worked through the three phases, they could allow for more and more employees to return to work in increments.
Phase three would be the “new normal”, she said, and would still include suggestions that vulnerable people should avoid crowded spaces.