Some Republican lawmakers and White House advisers are calling on President Donald Trump to scale back steps to contain the coronavirus, arguing that the impact on the economy has become too severe, according to several people with knowledge of the internal deliberations.
Loosening restrictions on social distancing would override the internal warnings of senior U.S. health officials, including Anthony Fauci, who have said the worst of the pandemic has yet to be felt in the United States.
"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," Trump said in an all-caps late-night tweet Sunday. "At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!"
The 15-day period is set to end on March 30.
Fauci, a member of the president's coronavirus task force, and other leading public health experts have told administration officials and Republican lawmakers that prematurely scaling back social distancing measures would hamper efforts to contain the virus and would devastate U.S. hospitals, according to the people with knowledge of the conversations who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations.
Nearly 44,000 people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus, a number expected to dramatically increase in the coming days.
But the push to reopen parts of the economy has gained traction among Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Spokespeople for the senators declined to comment.
Conservative economists Steven Moore and Art Laffer have been lobbying the White House for more than a week to strongly consider scaling back the recommendation that restaurants, stores and other gathering spots be closed, although exactly what that would entail remains unclear. Leading Wall Street and conservative media figures have also embraced the idea.
Three people who have recently spoken with the White House economic team, including Moore, confirmed the growing push for restoring normalcy to the U.S. economy and returning workers to their jobs.
Some Republicans are against any change in course.
"It would be a major mistake to suggest any change of course when it comes to containment," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of Trump, said in an interview. "I just spoke with Dr. Fauci -- he believes that if anything we should be more aggressive and do more. ... You can't have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing. People aren't going to go to work like that."
Internally, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and officials from the Office of Management and Budget are pushing to get the economy back to normal as quickly as possible, according to people familiar with the matter.
"The president is right. The cure can't be worse than the disease," Kudlow said on Fox News on Monday. "And we're going to have to make some difficult trade-offs."
One option under consideration is a gradual scaling back of current restrictions, where people under 40 who are healthy go back to work on a certain date, followed by people aged 40 to 50, according to one person briefed on the discussions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 15-day plan to encourage Americans to stay at home is not expected to be enough time to defeat the virus' spread.
Public health experts are strongly warning against the idea of loosening social distancing measures. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of Harvard's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said "every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of" believes the United States should be tightening the restrictions.
"We haven't yet even seen signs that the growth is slowing, much less reversing. Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them," Lipsitch said.
"If we let up now, we can be virtually certain that health care will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country. This is the view of every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of."
Information for this article was contributed by Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Erica Werner of The Washington Post.
A Section on 03/24/2020
Print Headline: Some in GOP push to reopen economy