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President Trump was flanked at yesterday's briefing by HHS Secretary Alex Azar (far left), Vice President Pence and Deborah Birx. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump's aides, encouraged by virus data showing fewer deaths than once projected, are working behind the scenes to deliver on his vow to reopen America "sooner rather than later."

What to watch: A senior White House official said there’s a lot of internal energy pushing for May 1, because that's the end of the White House's "30 Days to Slow the Spread."

  • That energy is especially coming from some of the more economic and politically minded aides. "We are looking at when the data will allow the opportunity to reopen," said the official.
  • But there are "a lot of different scenarios" and "not one plan that people are rallying around,” the official said.
  • The West Wing is not close to a decision. And officials insist they'll follow data, not dates.

Public health officials are very wary of optimistic talk of an imminent reopening from some members of the White House economic team.

  • A senior HHS official said, "Talk of reopening the American economy — when we don’t fully understand the virus, and can’t even crank our own domestic assembly lines to make diagnostic tests, respirators and ventilators — isn't just myopic, it's flat out ridiculous."
  • "The president’s primary focus continues to be the health and safety of the American people," said one top official defending the president. "That being said, he is committed to leading a historic economic recovery and will begin to lay the foundation of that effort as we continue to navigate the pandemic."

The federal government will ultimately defer to governors.

  • But in a signpost to the internal conversation about a phased-in return to work, the CDC yesterday posted guidance on how critical employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 can return to work.
  • That includes screening by temperature and symptoms, regular monitoring, a requirement that the worker wears a mask for 14 days since the last exposure, social distancing, and disinfection of workspace.

Some officials worry the economy will remain soft even after the guidance changes: The fear level could remain high, and people may stay home anyway.

  • And one key to mitigating that fear — readily available testing for all Americans and antibody testing — isn't there yet.

The bottom line per a senior administration official: "People who put specific dates out there will continue to lose."

  • Trump pivoted away from a date again yesterday, saying he’d consult with his health professionals — and watch the curve.

Go deeper

Moderna says vaccine appears to protect against new COVID-19 variants

Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is effective against new variants of the virus that first appeared in the U.K. and in South Africa, the company announced on Monday.

Yes, but: The vaccine was as effective against the strain from U.K., but saw a six-fold reduction in antibodies against the South Africa variant. Even still, the neutralizing antibodies generated by the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," according to the company.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Updated 1 hour ago - World

Xi Jinping warns against "new cold war" in Davos speech

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Wang Zhao - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that a "new cold war" could turn hot, and must be avoided, in a speech on Monday at World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Agenda” conference.

Why it matters: Xi didn't refer directly to U.S.-China tensions, but the subtext was clear. These were his first remarks to an international audience since the inauguration of President Biden, whose administration has already concurred with Donald Trump's determination that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims, and issued a warning about China's aggression toward Taiwan.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dominion files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani

Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani on Monday seeking $1.3 billion in damages for his "demonstrably false” allegations about the company's voting machines.

Why it matters: Giuliani led former President Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election and spread the baseless conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting machines flipped votes from Trump to Joe Biden.