Experts ‘troubled’ by Trump’s Easter timeline to lift COVID-19 restrictions
Experts said they were “troubled” by President Trump’s suggestion that the United States could lift pandemic-related restrictions on gathering and travel by Easter Sunday — April 12 — calling it an arbitrary date not based on evidence.
“Easing social distancing measures while significant COVID-19 transmission continues will lead to faster spread of the disease, overwhelm health care settings that continue to lack essential equipment, and result in deaths that could have been prevented,” the Infectious Diseases Society of American and HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) said in a joint statement.
During a Fox News virtual town hall on Tuesday, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” Trump said during a second interview that aired on Fox News. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time, and it’s just about the timeline that I think is right. I’m not sure that’s going to be the date, but I would like to aim it right at Easter Sunday.”
The IDSA and HIVMA said social distancing measures should remain in place until experts indicate they can be safely lifted.
“The idea is crazy,” Carlos del Rio, MD, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine, told Healio. “Not only is it too soon, but when I heard him say churches would be full, it made me cringe. We will have a lot of dead people!”
Del Rio suggested that lifting restrictions by April 12 could result in millions more infections and ICU admissions and half a million deaths, mostly in people older than 65.
“We urge President Trump to maintain and strengthen the public health tools at our disposal as long as they are needed to protect Americans’ health and lives,” the IDSA and HIVMA said. “The president should only set a date for lifting nationwide social distancing restrictions when the medical evidence indicates that it is safe. Lifting restrictions sooner will gravely jeopardize the health of all Americans and extend the economic impacts of the pandemic.”
Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the president’s COVID-19 task force, said during a White House press briefing that the date was “flexible.”
“Obviously, no one is going to want to tone down things when you see what’s going on in a place like New York City. That’s just good public health practice and common sense,” Fauci said. “We need to know what’s going on in those areas of the country where there isn’t an obvious outbreak. Is there something underneath the surface that says, wait a minute, you better really be careful and clamp down, or you don’t really have to be as harsh as you are in other areas? It’s looking at information that we never really had. It’s a flexible situation.”
There were almost 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City as of Tuesday according to the state health department. The U.S. is third behind only China and Italy with more than 55,000 confirmed cases.
Trump indicated during the virtual town hall that the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy was worse than the pandemic itself, saying “the cure is worse than the problem. More people are going to die if we allow this to continue.”
“We have to get our country back to work. Our country wants to be at work,” he said. – by Gerard Gallagher
Disclosures: Del Rio, Fauci and Trump report no relevant financial disclosures.