Mar 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump weighs plan to label counties by coronavirus "risk" level

In this image, Trump talks

Trump at a White House coronavirus task force briefing on March 25. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Trump administration is developing a plan to label counties across the country as "high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk" areas for the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump said in a letter to the nation's governors on Thursday.

Why it matters: Against the warnings of health experts, Trump is pushing for parts of the country to lift social distancing restrictions over the next few weeks and months, believing that the economic toll of an extended quarantine will be more damaging than the virus itself.

  • But economists say his proposal to get business around the country back open by Easter Sunday, April 12, will do more harm to the economy if the coronavirus outbreak has not been contained.

What he's saying: "This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capacities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the Nation's public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus."

  • "This will incorporate robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country. Under these data-driven critieria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk," Trump wrote in the letter.

Between the lines: Designating counties by risk level would require rigorous testing. While the country's testing capacity has ramped up significantly, the number of tests conducted varies greatly by location.

  • Another problem is that even as our testing capability ramps up, we face shortages of the supplies used to make and conduct the tests.
  • Those shortages could complicate a federal initiative to measure the virus' risk to individual counties across the country.
  • There is also no mention in Trump's proposal of restricting travel between high-risk and low-risk counties.

The big picture: States and cities have been administering their own precautions to combat the spread of coronavirus through enforcing "stay-at-home" orders, as social distancing remains a crucial tool to slow the rate of infection.

  • There's only so much that the federal government can do to lift social distancing restrictions when so many of the decisions are being made by states, but some Republican governors may choose to take their cues from the president.

Read the letter.

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