President Donald Trump pointed to his own head when asked on Friday what metrics he would consider when it came to a decision on reopening parts of the country following the coronavirus pandemic.
“The metrics right here, that’s my metrics,” Trump said. “That’s all I can do. I can listen to 35 people. At the end, I’ve got to make a decision.”
A lack of clarity on whether the country should re-open next month was a theme of Friday’s briefing by the White House coronavirus task force. Trump positioned himself as having authority on when such a move could happen, despite individual states putting in place far more restrictive lockdown measures than the White House has recommended in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
The president did not commit on Friday to any date, but a recent Washington Post report detailed a possible attempt to jumpstart the country around May 1. Trump initially said Friday he would listen to the experts on hand when asked about that date. But, pressed further, he emphasized “there are two sides.”
“I understand the other side of the argument very well, because I look at both sides of an argument,” Trump said. “I will listen to them very carefully though.”
The president has not been shy throughout the health crisis about how the virus is impacting the economy in the lead up to a heated re-election battle in November.
He was criticized last month for pushing to reopen the country by Easter. Even some Republican governors pushed back on the move, and Trump moved away from the idea as the impact of the coronavirus on the country became more dire.
When he was asked on Friday if people should have to choose between staying healthy or heading back to their jobs, Trump said both could be done.
“We’re going to go back to work and we’re going to stay healthy,” Trump said.
Even if the president makes a push to reopen the country, governors across the country have issued a slew of their own measures to prevent the spread of the virus including “stay-at-home” orders and other restrictions. Those measures are likely to continue if governors fear for the safety of their constituents.
Health officials during Friday’s briefing offered hopeful signs about how the country is faring at this stage of the pandemic, but still offered clear warnings.
There are encouraging signs, but “as encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak,” said Deborah Birx, the task force response coordinator.
“And so every day we need to continue to do what we did yesterday and the week before and the week before that, because that’s what, in the end, is going to take us up across the peak and down the other side,” Birx said.
Trump also discussed creating a “council” that would include medical professionals and business leaders that he dubbed “the opening our country task force, or opening our country council.”
“I want to get it open as soon as possible,” Trump said. “This country was meant to be open and vibrant and great.” He then added that “the facts are going to determine what I do.”
“But we do want to get the country open,” he said.
The New York Times reported Friday on internal DHS and HHS estimates that, according to the paper, warned ending restrictions like “stay-at-home” orders following the 30-day mark could lead to troubling results in the coming months.
However, towards the end of the briefing on Friday, Trump said that staying at home could lead to people dying too.
“Staying at home leads to death also,” Trump said. “And it’s very traumatic for this country. But staying at home, if you look at numbers, that leads to a different kind of death perhaps. But it leads to death also. So it’s a very big decision. As I said, it’s the biggest decision I'll ever make.”