America won’t get back to normal by Easter after all. The federal government guidelines on social distancing and closure of non-essential business will get extended for another month, Donald Trump declared today, in order to keep fighting the coronavirus. With the expected peak of deaths in hot spots still two weeks out, the battle won’t finish until the end of April — at least.
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump announced this afternoon. “That would be the greatest loss of all.”
President Trump: "The peak, the highest point of death rates…is likely to hit in two weeks."
— ABC News (@ABC) March 29, 2020
President Donald Trump is extending federal guidelines recommending people stay home and away from one another for another 30 days as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.
Trump made the announcement during a Rose Garden briefing. The guidelines, originally tagged as “15 days to slow the spread” had been set to expire Monday.
What changed Trump’s mind about Easter? The data did, said Dr. Anthony Fauci. After he and Dr. Deborah Birx presented him with the latest reports, presumably including Fauci’s new projection of 100,000-200,000 American deaths, Trump made the “wise and prudent decision”:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 29, 2020
“Mitigation” is what we’re doing now, Fauci states, and it’s working. We can’t know by how much, he says, because we’re dealing with modeling in the absence of widespread testing. The extension will give the CDC more time to marshal the private sector to provide that widespread testing, so the data will start improving markedly through the next 30 days. Until then, we do know that the mitigation provided by the federal guidelines will slow the transmission, which then slows the fatalities.
This takes pressure off of the governors who have ordered shelter-in-place policies, some only just recently. Setting the Easter target date put a political target on the governors’ backs if people started balking at the restrictions. This gives them some breathing room, especially while they wait for ventilators and personal protective equipment to arrive in force to bolster their health-care providers. The ventilators are probably a few weeks off at best, but there is some hope that effective treatments might already be developing that will flatten the fatality curve, too.
Trump made sure to hail the individual effort made by Americans to get through this crisis. There will likely need to be more and more such rallying language as the extension also extends the pessimism and gloom it will produce.
Pres. Trump: “I want the American people to know that your selfless, inspiring and valiant efforts are saving countless lives. You are making the difference.” https://t.co/er9ZCtlAkB pic.twitter.com/qSpHTdBXGv
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 29, 2020
Note: This post has been edited and expanded since its first publication.
Update: A reporter asked whether discussing Easter as a goal was a mistake. No, Trump said, it was “aspirational,” but he didn’t make it a firm deadline:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 29, 2020
It’s fair to say it was framed aspirationally at the time, but it still might not have been a good idea to offer that specific of a time frame, even aspirationally. This extension now seems even more like a letdown, although by how much is debatable. Would we be all that much more disappointed in this news if Trump hadn’t mentioned Easter before? Doubtful.
Bear in mind, though, that April 30th might still be aspirational, too. This time, Trump’s being a little more careful in expectation-setting:
"Well, we hope not," says Pres Trump, asked if the new April 30th target date might have to be extended. He says he could have eased the guidelines on Easter, "but we just felt it was too soon and couldn't take a chance." Says he announced April 30 today, to beat press leaks. pic.twitter.com/mcjrXDczzL
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 29, 2020