WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is determined to ease coronavirus restrictions on most Americans by the Easter holiday -- auspicious timing for his evangelical base and business allies but a worrisome deadline for public health experts shaping the U.S. response to a still mushrooming outbreak.
Trump's impatience to get everyone back to work set in almost immediately after he urged everyone to stay home -- touched off as he watched a sermon delivered by a prominent evangelical preacher to an empty megachurch. It gained momentum as Trump listened to advice from conservative economists who warned of near-apocalyptic financial damage, a view reinforced by a free-fall in markets.
And it coalesced around a single day, among the most sacred in the Christian calendar -- Easter Sunday, April 12 -- for reasons more symbolic than scientific after a key meeting headed by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner just four days after the stay-at-home advice.
Trump's public health advisers appear to have made some headway in softening his insistence on that single day -- "a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline," as the president has called it -- but he largely remains undeterred.
Now, even with the total number of American cases surpassing the tally reported by China, members of the White House's coronavirus task force are hastily preparing a menu of options for Trump to consider this weekend ahead of a planned announcement early next week, when the president's 15-day social distancing guidelines will elapse.
Federal officials are considering a plan to rank U.S. counties as low, medium or high risk, with the hope of providing state and local officials corresponding guidance for what distancing measures they should implement -- and which can be lifted and where.
"We're going to listen to the very best health experts in the world, we're going to examine that data very carefully, and we'll be presenting, this weekend, the president a range of recommendations and additional guidance for going forward," Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday. "The president has made it clear that, in his words, he wants to open the country up."
The effort comes even as health officials warn the president's timeline could be too ambitious, risking a spike in cases that would overwhelm hospital systems just barely handling their current case load. And Deborah Birx, the immunologist selected by Pence to lead the task force's health analysis, said Thursday that the administration still needed to "get all of our data together" before granular recommendations could be made.
Trump gained new evidence in his push for an Easter revival after news Thursday that a record 3.3 million Americans had filed for unemployment.
"This is a country that was built on getting it done, and our people want to go back to work," Trump said. "I'm hearing it loud and clear from everybody."