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.

Go deeper

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 31,175,205 — Total deaths: 962,076— Total recoveries: 21,294,229Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 6,829,956 — Total deaths: 199,690 — Total recoveries: 2,590,695 — Total tests: 95,121,596Map.
  3. Health: CDC says it mistakenly published guidance about COVID-19 spreading through air.
  4. Media: Conservative blogger who spread COVID-19 misinformation worked for Fauci's agency.
  5. Politics: House Democrats file legislation to fund government through Dec. 11.
  6. World: "The Wake-Up Call" warns the West about the consequences of mishandling a pandemic.

McConnell: Senate has "more than sufficient time" to process Supreme Court nomination

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech Monday that the chamber has "more than sufficient time" to confirm a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election, and accused Democrats of preparing "an even more appalling sequel" to the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Why it matters: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said "nothing is off the table next year" if Republicans push ahead with the confirmation vote before November, vowing alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to use "every procedural tool available to us to ensure that we buy ourselves the time necessary."

House Democrats file legislation to fund government through Dec. 11

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Democrats on Monday released their proposal for short-term legislation to fund the government through December 11.

Why it matters: This is Congress' chief legislative focus before the election. They must pass a continuing resolution (CR) before midnight on Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown — something both Hill leaders and the White House have claimed is off the table.