Mar 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump signals an economic pivot on coronavirus shutdowns

Sunday's White House briefing. Photo: Eric Bardat/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump and some of his senior officials are losing patience with the doctors’ orders.

The state of play: Amid dire predictions for jobs and the economy, the White House is beginning to send signals to business that there's light at the end of the tunnel — that the squeeze from nationwide social distancing won't be endless.

  • Trump tweeted at 10 minutes to midnight: "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD [which began a week ago, March 16], WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!"
  • Vice President Pence, who heads the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, had signaled the change in tone earlier when he said the CDC will issue guidance today allowing people exposed to the coronavirus to return to work sooner by wearing a mask for a certain length of time.

Why it matters: Taken together, Trump’s tweet and Pence's comment supply the strongest public signals we've seen that the administration is looking for ways to get people out in the world again to fire up the economy — perhaps much sooner than Dr. Fauci would like.

  • Trump is responding both to his own instincts and to messages that key outside allies have been sending for days.
  • He retweeted a number of those outside allies echoing similar stances on Monday morning.

Between the lines: Senior Trump officials, including the president himself, have only limited patience for keeping the economy shut down. They are watching stocks tumble and unemployment skyrocket.

  • What’s next: At the end of the 15-day period, there will likely be a serious clash between the public health experts — who will almost certainly favor a longer period of nationwide social distancing and quarantining — versus the president and his economic and political aides, who are anxious to restart the economy.

Go deeper

Census Bureau reports spike in signs of anxiety and depression since coronavirus

A food bank distribution line in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Americans are experiencing an increase in anxiety and depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Census Bureau survey cited by the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The findings indicate a significant uptick in clinical anxiety and depression since the onset of the virus. Despite communities and economies reopening, the COVID-19 outbreak is far from over.

The polarized pandemic election

A Trump supporter protests Pennsylvania's stay-at-home order, during a May 15 rally outside the Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump is going all-in on pushing for a rapid, robust return to normal life, creating a visual, visceral contrast with Joe Biden and other Democrats who are more reticent to rip the masks off.

The state of play: Business friends have been urging Trump from the beginning to keep the lockdowns short. He's listening more and more.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Tuesday to make wearing face coverings mandatory statewide for most people over the age of 10 when inside public places. The measure is effective Friday and applies to places like retailers, on public transportation and government buildings.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from the novel coronavirus and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.