Coronavirus government response updates: ‘LIBERATE’: Trump tweets support for protesters defying stay-at-home orders

(WASHINGTON) — Hours after saying it’s up to the governors to implement reopenings in their states, with the federal government providing three-phase guidelines, President Donald Trump on Friday encouraged protests against stay-at-home orders in 2020 election battleground states with Democratic governors, appearing to try to take advantage of public restlessness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The president did not mince words on Twitter this morning in support of Michiganders, Minnesotans and Virginians protesting against restrictions, saying in separate tweets: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!; LIBERATE MINNESOTA!; LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

LIBERATE MICHIGAN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020

Asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl at Thursday’s task force briefing whether he’d urge protesters in Michigan and elsewhere to listen to local authorities, Trump chose not to do so.

“I think they’re listening, I think they listen to me,” Trump said. “They seem to be protesters that like me and respect this opinion, and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors. They all want to open. Nobody wants to stay shut.”

Earlier this week, he said he would not put “pressure” on governors.

Critics say he has resisted calling for a nationwide stay-at-home order — or even recommending orders on a state-by-state basis — so governors are forced to make the tough decisions.

Here are the latest developments in the government response:

Trump says some states can open today, responsible for their own testing

While political and public health leaders report the need for more robust testing and surveillance systems as COVID-19 ravishes parts of the U.S., the president is encouraging states with fewer cases to begin returning to normal sooner than May 1, saying some may begin reopening “literally” today.

“We are beating the date. I set the date of May 1st, and here we are, and I think you’re going to have some nice surprises over the next few days,” the president said, introducing his three-phased guidelines to “Opening up America again” at Thursday’s task force briefing.

“America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open,” Trump added. “As I have said for some time now, a national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution. To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy.”

Trump said he was leaving the decision on when and how to reopen states — as well as COVID-19 testing responsibilities — to individual governors, in a sharp reversal from claiming “total” authority on setting the terms earlier this week.

“If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that, and if they believe it is time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task and very quickly,” Trump said, adding the strategy was based on “hard, verifiable data.”

Asked about states like Montana and Utah that already meet the “gating criteria” — such as a decline in COVID-like symptoms and cases for 14 days and access to testing for health care workers — the president said states that qualify could enter phase one of reopening “literally tomorrow.”

“They will be able to go in literally tomorrow because they have met all of the guidelines,” Trump said Thursday. “You’re going back 14 days, back a month and they have — the ones that I’m thinking about, the ones have already spoken to governors about, they have met those guidelines long ago.”

Some areas look to lift orders

After President Trump unveiled new guidelines Thursday night, state and local leaders are weighing Friday how and when to lift some of the social distancing and mitigation measures put in place amid the pandemic. Some areas are moving faster than others.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch Trump ally, said this morning he would use the president’s guidelines as “a baseline” to follow but that Florida may not do “every single thing they say or not say.”

“We will obviously use that as kind of a baseline. It doesn’t mean that Florida is going to go every single thing they say or not say, but that’s a pretty good baseline,” DeSantis said, without announcing a statewide plan to enter phase one. “Some of these businesses letting people get back to work. I think that that’s something that’s very, very important.”

But two weeks into a statewide stay-at-home order DeSantis resisted to call, some local officials are already reopening beaches, citing Santis’ executive order as its baseline.

In Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry announced that beaches and parks throughout Duval County will reopen today at 5 p.m. “with restrictions for essential activities only.” DeSantis’ executive order defines essential activities as including walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming and surfing.

“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Curry said. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.”

DeSantis was criticized for waiting to close beaches through March, potentially prompting the virus to silently spread for weeks.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers said on Thursday that golf courses could open next week with restrictions and that for-hire lawn care could resume if it was carried out by one person.

Other states with low infection rates and Republican governors might also be looking at steps to begin gradually lifting restrictions.

Schumer calls for testing in Trump’s plan

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered some praise of President Trump’s reopening plan Friday morning but pushed for more robust testing, reiterating Democrats’ $30 billion call for a national testing program.

“The plan is a little more measured than what the president said in the past, which is good but there’s a key thing missing in all this,” Schumer said on MSNBC. “It’s called testing.”

“If we don’t have a strong, adequate testing regime, we’re going to have real trouble,” he said. “You have to know who has the illness, who’s immune from the illness and who could get the illness before we can determine who can go back to work and who can’t.”

He called the current system “scattershot and totally inadequate for what’s needed to get the country back to work.”

“Each state can’t come up with its own test. Many of the states are inadequate to come up with their own tests. We need a national program distributed to the local governments,” he added.

Schumer defended Democrats’ proposal to add $30 billion to ramp up COVID-19 testing before agreeing to pass emergency legislation which would replenish the paycheck protection program — intended to help fund small businesses in the pandemic — that ran out of funds on Thursday.

“We’ve had constructive talks,” Schumer said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t come to an agreement soon.”

In a tweet later Friday morning, Trump blamed Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not already agreeing to GOP-backed legislation to refund the program before it dried up.

Today people started losing their jobs because of Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, who should immediately come back to Washington and approve legislation to help families in America. End your ENDLESS VACATION!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020

Key forecasting model used by White House raises death projections

As of Friday morning, a COVID-19 forecasting model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicted 68,841 COVID-19 deaths by Aug. 4, 2020.

Last week the model forecasted 60,415 deaths by that date.

While Friday’s projection is still significantly lower than projections last month of 84,000 deaths, there’s an uptick by roughly 8,500 lives as the tool is modeled after Americans’ current behaviors.

White House coronavirus task force Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have cautioned that models can frequently change projections and that real-time data is a better indicator of projecting the virus.

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