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Trump To Announce Advisory Council On Reopening The Country, Shuttered By Coronavirus

President Trump arrives to speak at the regular coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Friday.
Evan Vucci
President Trump arrives to speak at the regular coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Friday.

Updated at 4:36 p.m. ET

President Trump plans to appoint a council to advise him on how best to reopen America after much of the nation went dormant to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Trump said Friday that he plans to announce on Tuesday whom he has named to make recommendations about some kind of path to normalcy.

"I'm going to surround myself with the greatest minds," he said in another marathon news conference at the White House. "We're going to make a decision, and hopefully, it's going to be the right decision."

Trump and advisers must balance economic, social, public health and other priorities. The president was asked what metrics he would use in recommending when some places might begin to attempt to get back to normal.

"The metrics right here," Trump said, pointing to his temple.

Danger of a bounce-back epidemic

The president was asked about reports that have suggested that a return to normalcy after about 30 days of social distancing and other countermeasures might mean a boomerang flare-up in cases later this year.

Trump said he and advisers would contemplate the possibility of an echo spike after the current surge in cases and deaths slows.

"There's always going to be a risk where something can flare up," he said.

The president also acknowledged that if an echo outbreak gets desperate enough in some places, another round of social distancing and other mitigation efforts could be needed.

But the United States expects to add new tools to help it battle the coronavirus, including tests and treatments, so the model for a response will change over time.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top immunologist who has been advising the White House's disaster response, suggested at a briefing on Thursday that normalization might look different for different parts of the country.

All the same, if the end has come into view, the nation still must travel a difficult course to reach it, another top physician, Dr. Deborah Birx, said at Friday's briefing.

She cited data about infections and deaths that are following expectations but are not yet on a downslope.

"As encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak," Birx warned.

Trump: Response supplies flowing

Trump asserted on Friday that the federal response has helped mitigate earlier shortages in masks, equipment and other supplies sought for hospitals and health care workers.

"We're in great shape in every way," he said. "Ventilators, protective clothing — we're not getting any calls from governors at this moment. We're getting very few calls from governors or anybody else needing anything — we're in great shape for this surge that's coming in some areas."

It wasn't immediately possible to assess whether, in fact, the shortfalls that have been reported in some places have been ameliorated; the president's statement followed weeks' worth of efforts to marshal, ship and produce the supplies.

Trump has, at various times, dueled with governors or other officials about the local needs or local responses to the crisis.

The president said he lamented that new predictions call for about 60,000 deaths from the pandemic but he said that outcome was preferable to the higher projections, including a range of 100,000 to 200,000 deaths.

"In the mist of grief and pain, we're seeing signs our aggressive strategy is saving countless lives," Trump said.

Trump and public health authorities urged Americans to continue to stay home, keep away from large groups and take the other precautions urged to slow the spread of the virus. The countermeasures are working, officials say.

Questions about process for normalization

With confidence now strengthened about the validity of the social distancing strategy and early indications about the end coming into sight, discussion has turned to how America may be able to get back to normal.

The White House's advisers suggest that there won't be one plan that applies everywhere.

"I don't think there are going to be benchmarks that are going to be consistent from one [area] to the other," Fauci said on Thursday.

Trump has been under pressure to at least announce an end date to the countermeasures, such as the call for staying home and avoiding large groups, which have amounted to a medically induced coma for much of the U.S. economy.

Restaurants, brick-and-mortar retailers, travel and other industries have been paralyzed; some 17 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the past few weeks.

With at least a theoretical decrease in sight to new infections and deaths, Trump and Vice President Pence say they're eager to begin assessing how sections of the United States could return to something like normal, permitting people to move more freely and return to work.

Trump said on Friday that's the assignment he'll give to the new council he plans to appoint, which he said would include "great business, great doctors — we're going to have have a great group of people."

That also could include governors, potentially even Democratic governors, Trump said at another point in the briefing in response to a question.

Long path to implementation

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR this week that his agency is working on a plan for normalization, but his comments suggested the necessity for a major and as-yet-incomplete effort.

First, the nation needs more coronavirus testing, Redfield said, especially testing with rapid results to render quicker diagnoses. Public health authorities also are looking ahead to new tests that can show whether a person had the virus in the past and may be carrying antibodies.

Second, Redfield said, the United States must vastly expand contact tracing to find people who are connected with those who become infected.


Under those practices, public health authorities work from a person known to be sick through all the other people with whom she or he has had contact — to see how many of them might be infected.

Many people who get the coronavirus don't show any symptoms, but they still can transmit it to others who do become sick. That's why identifying everyone who has it, in whichever form, is so important to constraining the outbreak.

Redfield said an eventual national program to test and contact-trace would need to be executed by local health authorities, with the guidance and assistance of the CDC.

Presumably, once officials have a good sense about where and how the infection stands in, for example, a metropolitan area, they could then begin to decide when stores and business could reopen.

Attempt to negotiate oil deal

Trump also said on Friday that negotiations continue among oil-producing nations about a production cut in order to stabilize prices.

Global demand for energy has been in a tailspin as one consequence of social distancing — fewer Americans are driving to work, shipping goods, making deliveries and so forth. That hurts the oil industry, and Trump already has warned about layoffs in the energy sector in the United States.

Trump said on Friday that he had spoken with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about getting Mexico onboard with a global production cut.

Mexico is an oil producer but not a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which has a strong influence on production and prices — and which already has announced that it will pump less crude.

Trump suggested that the United States would "help Mexico along" with a cut to its own production that would enable Mexico to reduce its output by a smaller concomitant amount. Mexico would then "reimburse" the United States later for whatever accommodation Washington makes now on oil production, Trump said.

The president said he and López Obrador had agreed on that detail, but other oil-producing nations haven't yet signed on.

"We're working on it," Trump said. "Eventually it's going to work out."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 11, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as the Organization of the Oil Producing Countries.
Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.