Trump Shifts COVID-19 Focus to Economy, Reopening

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is trying to put the coronavirus behind him and the nation, pivoting his focus to plans to reopen the country even as the virus continues to spread.

As part of the effort, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be releasing new priorities for virus testing late Monday, including testing asymptomatic individuals who are n high-risk settings. And the White House is to unveil what it describes as a comprehensive overview of its efforts to make testing for COVID-19 more widely available, with the goal of having enough tests and supplies available for states to test at least 2.6% of their people per month.

The flurry of announcements comes as the White House is trying to shift its approach amid an erosion in public support for the president. What had been his greatest asset in the reelection campaign, his ability to blanket news headlines with freewheeling performances at his daily White House briefings, had become a daily liability. At the same time, new Republican Party polling shows Trump's path to a second term depends on the public's perception of how quickly the economy rebounds from the state-by-state shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus. 

Days after he publicly mused that scientists should explore the injection of toxic disinfectants as a potential virus cure, Trump was said to have rejected the usefulness of his daily task force briefings, where he has time and again clashed with scientific experts and reporters. Trump's aides had been trying to move the president onto more familiar — and safer, they hope — ground: Talking up the economy, in more tightly controlled settings.

But Trump, who has long been reluctant to cede the spotlight, appeared to have other plans. Hours after the White House scrubbed the nightly briefing from the official White House schedule, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany reversed course.

"UPDATE: The White House has additional testing guidance and other announcements about safely opening up America again. President @realDonaldTrump will brief the nation during a press conference this evening," she tweeted.

McEnany had said earlier that instead of a briefing Monday, Trump would be meeting with retail CEOs. She said briefings would be held later in the week, but, "they might have a new look to them, a new focus to them."

"We're entering a phase of looking to reopen the country and with that, the president will be focusing a lot on the economy," she said.

Among the announcements is a new "testing blueprint" for states, outlining how they should prioritize testing as they devise their reopening plans. It includes a focus on surveillance testing as well as "rapid response" programs to isolate those who test positive and identify those they came in contact with. The administration aims to have the market "flooded" with tests for the fall, when COVID-19 is expected to recur alongside the seasonal flu.

However, the administration's past pledges on testing have not been met.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working on sector-specific reopening guidelines that could be released as soon as Monday. Draft guidelines sent by the CDC to Washington include a long list of recommendations for organizations as they begin to reopen after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, including businesses closing break rooms, schools spacing desks six feet apart, and restaurants considering disposable plates and menus. The draft was obtained by The Associated Press from a federal official who was not authorized to release it.

The draft includes guidelines for at least seven kinds of organizations, including schools, camps, childcare centers, religious facilities, mass transit systems, workplaces, and restaurants and bars.

Some states have started to ease closure orders, and Trump is expected to spend the coming days highlighting his administration's efforts to help businesses and employees. Aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future recovery package. 

Trump last left the White House grounds a month ago, and plans are being drawn up for a limited schedule of travel within the next few weeks, aides said. It would be a symbolic show that the nation is beginning to reopen.

The shift comes in conjunction with what the White House sees as encouraging signs across the country, with the pace of new infections stabilizing and deaths declining. 

Still, medical experts warn that the virus will continue to haunt the country until at least a vaccine is developed. And they say the risk of a severe second wave  is high if social distancing measures are relaxed too quickly or if testing and contact tracing schemes aren't developed before people return to normal behaviors.

The White House is deliberating whether to continue to hold news briefings in a modified form without Trump, potentially at a different location. Before Trump said in a tweet Saturday that they were "Not worth the time & effort," aides had been eager to use the briefings to highlight positive trends and to overwhelm Americans with statistics. It was an effort to restore confidence in the response so that the public would be comfortable resuming more normal activities.

"We know that's important," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told Fox News Channel's "Sunday Morning Futures." "We understand those messages of science and policy need to be brought forward to the American people in a nonpolitical way."

Few Americans regularly look to or trust Trump as a source of information on the pandemic, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released last week.

Governors in both parties say much more is needed, particularly in testing, in the coming months, as they deliberate how and when to reopen their states.

"I want to get our economy back opened just as soon as we can, but I want to do so in a safe way so we don't have a spike, we don't cause more deaths, or an overloading of our health care system," Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., told ABC's "This Week."


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