AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Governors across the nation on Tuesday rejected President Donald Trump's new accelerated timeline for reopening the U.S. economy, as they continued to impose more restrictions on travel and public life in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The dismissal of Trump's mid-April timeframe for a national reopening came from Republicans and Democrats, from leaders struggling to manage hot spots of the outbreak and those still bracing for the worst.
In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, the head of the National Governors Association, expressed bewilderment at the White House, calling the messaging confusing and running on a schedule made of some “imaginary clock.”
The governors' reaction revealed a striking disconnect between Trump and the state leaders closer to the front lines of a crisis that threatens to overwhelm U.S. hospitals and claim thousands of lives. In most cases, it's state leaders — not the federal government — who are responsible for both imposing and lifting the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions intended to stop the contagion.
Trump's optimism appears to reflect his desire to limit the economic damage from the outbreak. The president is eager to get the U.S. back to work as the crisis takes a political toll and the economy, which had been the cornerstone of his re-election bid, begins to wobble. He tweeted that people "will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!”
But governors suggested that view had little connection to the reality they're facing. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said he and Trump are “clearly operating under a different set of assumptions."
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said the infection rate was doubling every three days and pleaded for more federal help as the number of cases in the state surpassed 20,000.
“If you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest. No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life," Cuomo told reporters Tuesday. "Job one has to be save lives. That has to be the priority.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Trump was “not taking into account the true damage that this will do to our country if we see truly millions of people die." A fellow Democratic governor, Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer, told WWMT-TV/Sinclair Broadcast Group that Trump's "off-the-cuff statements are really going to undermine our ability to protect people.
As soon as next week, Trump wants to take another look at recommendations about business closures and self-isolation, and said Tuesday the country could reopened by Easter Sunday — less than a month away. “Our people want to return to work," Trump tweeted.
Even some of Trump’s usual allies are continuing move ahead with tighter controls on travel, commerce and mobility, despite the president's words. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed stay-at-home orders that continued to spread through the biggest cities. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said public health needed to come first, and South Dakota Gov. Krisiti Noem is stressing limiting business activity, not relaxing them.
“This situation is not going to be over in a week," said Noem, whose state has more than two dozen cases. “... We have another eight weeks until we see our peak infection rate."
The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities. The orders closing schools, restaurants and businesses have largely come from a patchwork of local and state governments — with areas hit hardest imposing the most restrictions, while other communities are still weighing tighter rules.
That means the White House is eyeing ways to ease the advisories while some areas are still ramping up their responses.
Among the few statehouse leaders to publicly endorse Trump's view was Texas' lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, 69, who on Monday suggested that people his age and older can “take care of ourselves " as the nation gets back to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people over 65 are at higher risk for the disease.
Friction between Trump and the governors has been steady throughout the crisis. The president said last week that states should be doing more to obtain their own critically needed supplies and while insisting that the federal government was not a shipping clerk. States, meanwhile, have been pressing the government to help procure necessary protective and breathing equipment.
"Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn't match," Hogan, the Maryland governor, told CNN. “We don't think that we're going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Worldwide, more than 375,000 cases have been reported, and while most people recover in weeks, more than 16,000 have died from the virus.
Cooper reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.