Trump Extends Social Distancing Guidelines Through End of April

The president, facing grim figures from his health advisers, starkly reversed an earlier upbeat assessment that the country could relax the guidelines by Easter.

By Michael D. Shear

WASHINGTON — President Trump retreated Sunday from his desire to relax coronavirus guidelines by Easter, announcing instead that all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than 10 for at least another month and perhaps until June.

The grim announcement, which the president made in the White House Rose Garden, came just a day before the end of a two-week period in which the world’s largest economy has largely shut down with staggering consequences: businesses shuttered, schools and colleges emptied, and social life all but suspended.

Mr. Trump said repeatedly last week that he hoped to end the need for such drastic actions soon, perhaps by Easter, on April 12, in the hopes of restarting the economy. But public health experts — including the president’s own advisers — had warned that trying to return to normal life too soon risked allowing the virus to rage, increasing the likelihood of more infections and raising the number of deaths.

The president finally appeared on Sunday to get the message. Citing figures from his advisers that showed that as many as 200,000 people could die from the virus even if the country took aggressive action to slow its spread, Mr. Trump said the restrictions must continue, even if it meant more sacrifice in the days ahead.

“During this period, it’s very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines. Have to follow the guidelines,” Mr. Trump told reporters, with members of the government’s coronavirus task force nearby. “Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread.”

“We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery,” Mr. Trump said. “We think by June 1. A lot of great things will be happening.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said he and other public health officials had urged Mr. Trump not to relax the guidelines too soon. Dr. Fauci — who in television appearances earlier in the day had offered the estimate of 200,000 dead — said Mr. Trump was affected by those predictions.

“The idea that we may have these many cases played a role in our decision in trying to make sure that we don’t do something prematurely and pull back when we should be pushing,” Dr. Fauci said. He said extending the guidelines until April 30 was a “wise and prudent decision” that Mr. Trump reached after discussions over several days with Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coordinator of the effort to fight the virus, and other health officials.

“Dr. Birx and I spent a considerable amount of time going over all the data, why we felt this was a best choice for us, and the president accepted it,” Dr. Fauci said.

For weeks, Mr. Trump had compared the coronavirus to the flu, repeatedly suggesting that many more people die of the flu each year than would succumb to the virus. But on Sunday, the president’s tone was different, more somber. He talked about “the viciousness” of the virus and said it had sent a friend to the hospital.

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