Some federal health experts advising President Donald Trump on the Covid-19 response have submitted recommendations to the White House coronavirus task force – guidelines that seek to reopen “some schools and businesses” in cities where infection rates are low, a senior federal health official directly involved in creating the guidelines told CNN.
The guidelines are only recommendations at this point, which would be considered by the task force then submitted for Trump’s approval. In recent days, the White House has said it would review recommendations and announce new guidelines early this week.
The official characterized the recommendations as a “middle-ground agreement” between “keeping the country shut down and trying to reopen the entire thing.” The source would not reveal which lower-infection states might be included.
“Manhattan won’t be impacted by these guidelines, but places in middle America will,” the official said.
The recommendations come as the number of reported coronavirus deaths doubled to more than 2,000 nationwide in two days. The US has the most confirmed cases worldwide, and as of Saturday, at least 215 million Americans were under various stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, according to a CNN count based on Census data.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that he supports the idea of loosening the guidelines, but stressed that a timetable for doing so is still unclear.
“I’m not against releasing the restrictions – I’m actually for it in an appropriate place,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force.
“But I don’t recommend it unless we have the tools in place, in real time” for testing data and containment, he said, adding: “It’s doable, but it’s only doable if you put the tools in place.”
Fauci was also skeptical that the end of the White House’s initial 15-day social distancing period would be the appropriate time to ease restrictions, saying, “We’ll take it as it comes, we’ll look at it, and if we need to push the date forward, we will push the date forward.”
CNN has reached out to the White House and the US Department of Health and Human Services and has not yet received responses. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund referred CNN to Fauci’s comments on “State of the Union.”
The proposed recommendations call for cities to reach “benchmarks” before allowing people to go back to school, return to daycare or go back to work, “… while still implementing social distancing measures.” The official did not offer any specifics about the benchmarks but did say that “state and local agencies will have to work together to decide what is best for their communities.”
The recommendations allow for “schools to open first,” the source said. “This is what we should have done in the first place. Some schools should have never closed.”
Under the proposed return-to-work recommendations, “businesses would be recommended to try a phased approach.”
“Those who are more vulnerable and at higher risk of contracting [the disease] will be recommended to telework, those who are younger … those who are non-immune compromised, those who are healthy are going to be asked to phase back into the workplace,” the official said. Those “severely ill, anyone showing symptoms, or people who are at higher risk should continue to stay home.”
The official stressed that these would be “guidelines” and that it would be up to individual state and local officials to decide how to move forward.
“We can’t have everything open and we can’t continue to tell people to stay inside,” the source said. “Continuing the pause like we have been is not sustainable socially. It’s not sustainable economically.”
Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News Saturday night that “we are following the data” as the task force prepares to release guidelines.
“We are literally doing tens of thousands of tests a day,” Pence said. “And we’ve got a great deal more understanding about where people have contracted the coronavirus, who has recovered, who is most at risk and the regions of the country most impacted. So, while the President has said that he would like to open the country up in weeks, not months, we are going to be bringing that data forward to him.”
When asked about the risk posed to the general public and how the recommendations would be received, the senior federal health official told CNN: “There is going to be risk.”
This story has been updated with comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci and to reflect response from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CNN’s Wes Bruer and Matthew Hilk contributed to this report.