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Trump says coronavirus shutdowns will last weeks, not months

Updated March 23, 2020 - 6:14 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday he expected to continue social-distancing measures and business shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic for weeks, not months.

Trump tweeted in the morning: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15-day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”

It was a nod to Americans who fear state closures will devastate the U.S. economy and lead to an uptick in personal depression and suicide, on the day the outbreak’s U.S. death toll exceeded 500.

During a daily briefing of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force that stretched close to two hours, Trump also said that he would listen to the advice of top advisers Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx if they advised him to extend his administration’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign.

With increased testing, New York reported more than 20,000 cases. Birx warned that New York’s metropolitan area is a hot spot with an “attack rate of close to one in 1,000” or five times what other areas are seeing, with 28 percent of tests coming back positive.

Trump said when the task force began, members expected mortality rates of 3 to 4 percent, but “it’s a lot lower than originally thought.”

Birx said that while the mortality rate in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, was more than 3 percent, outside of Wuhan it was “about 0.7 percent” and it was 0.7 percent to 0.8 percent in South Korea.

Trump’s point person on the outbreak, Vice President Mike Pence, said self-administered COVID-19 swabs soon would be available to the public — which will cut down on the need to use scarce personal protection equipment. Pence also noted that all state and hospital laboratories are required by law to report test results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who was asymptomatic and had no known contact with an infected person, revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19. ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked Birx if Paul might be associating with fellow senators if he had heeded experts’ advice that people without symptoms or contact not be tested.

“So, that’s why this is important,” Birx responded, as she displayed the 15 Days to Slow the Spread guidelines.

Birx also revealed that she had a low-grade fever which led her to stay at home as she awaited results for a COVID-19 test, which turned out negative.

Last week, Ron Klain, an adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama’s Ebola czar, told Yahoo News’ ‘Skullduggery’ podcast, “We’re really at the inflection point here, where this disease is really going to explode in the U.S.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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