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President Donald Trump presented federal guidelines Thursday to allow states to ease restrictions that have been put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The guidelines call for a phased loosening of restrictions on business and travel and sets benchmarks for determining when they can be lifted.
After weeks of saying he would “ reopen America,” Trump conceded Thursday that this is a decision that will be made by America’s governors, the same people responsible for putting the restrictions in place. The guidelines essentially envision a slow rollback of the restrictions that most governors put in place as the virus reached their states. States would have to see a sustained decline in the number of COVID-19 cases to move from one phase to another.
[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]
These steps largely mirror what governors and public health officials have recommended for weeks. They also make clear that it could be months before all the benchmarks are met and Americans can more freely move about.
“We all want life to return to normal as soon as it is safe to do so,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement on Friday. “Our hearts break to see closed storefronts and people struggling to make ends meet because of this crisis. At the same time, we all know that reopening too soon and too aggressively will likely cause a secondary surge in COVID 19 cases, jeopardizing the lives of Maine people and further destabilizing the economy.”
To avoid such an outcome, Mills is working with experts in her administration and other northern New England governors to develop a phased reopening “tailored to the demographics and various economic sectors of our state.”
Mills reiterated the need for widespread testing, personal protective equipment, and contact tracing before lifting restrictions and reviving the economy.
None of the president’s suggestions are new information or change how states will operate. But, hopefully, it stops the president from spreading confusing — and often misleading — information when Americans want clear and consistent information about how best to adapt to the restrictions that have been put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, as well as how long those restrictions need to remain in place.
While many Americans are eager to return to more normal daily lives, two-thirds worry that government restrictions will be lifted too quickly, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday. Nearly three-quarters believe the worst of the outbreak is yet to come.
As of Friday, more than 33,000 Americans have died from the virus, the most reported deaths of any country. More than 672,000 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., again the most in the world.
The rate of growth in the number of new cases nationally has not slowed, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is considered one of the most authoritative trackers of the spread of COVID-19.
Although the president’s plan offered some hope for the distant future, there are some major shortfalls in it.
One of the most significant is the shortage of testing in the U.S. To allow people to return to their workplaces, to reopen the nation’s schools and to allow retail businesses to open, for example, America needs a robust testing program to determine who has coronavirus and who does not. This is especially true because a significant number of people who are carrying the virus show no symptoms.
So far, more than 3.4 million Americans have been tested. That’s about 1 percent of the country’s population. And, while testing rates have been ramped up — about 147,000 people per day were tested in the U.S. over the past week, according to The COVID Tracking Project — they are still far short of what is needed to test every American in coming months.
In Maine, Dr. Nirav Shah, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control, has long warned that testing is inadequate here and that state residents should presume that there are cases of coronavirus in their communities even if no cases have been confirmed there.
Just as the White House has largely left states on their own to acquire needed protective equipment for healthcare workers and ventilators, the testing system has been a hodge podge of state efforts with some federal guidance and intervention. A federal effort to rapidly make more testing available is long overdue.
We agree with the president that the economic hardships caused by measures put in place to control the coronavirus should be curtailed as soon as possible. But state governments need a lot more than duplicative guidelines and cheerleading to be able to responsibly lift restrictions that appear to be slowing the spread of coronavirus in many parts of the country, including Maine.