Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday called current restrictions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus “draconian,” as the White House coronavirus task force’s health experts have lauded such measures as helpful to lowering the rate of spread.
In an interview on Fox News, Barr said that Americans should return to a more normal way of life after the Trump administration’s recommended period of isolation that ends April 30 and that state and federal governments “have to consider alternative ways of protecting people” from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think when this period of time at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways, social distancing and other means, to protect themselves,” Barr said.
He argued that “we need to be very careful that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified.”
Barr’s comments come as President Donald Trump has been eager to open the country up and get Americans back to work, but his health experts have cautioned against relaxing the guidelines too early.
The White House has advised people to socially distance, avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, and stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus. Most states have imposed enforceable “stay-at-home” orders, limiting residents to only essential activities, while Trump has said he doesn’t believe a nationwide mandate is necessary.
Barr said that he agreed with Trump’s decision to issue strict social distancing guidelines given the uncertainty surrounding the virus last month but added that he was concerned about the breadth of the emergency powers being exercised.
“I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency and then using these kind of sweeping extraordinary steps,” Barr said.
He said that the Justice Department would be “keeping a careful eye” on how strictly state governments continue to restrict Americans’ freedoms, like the ability to go to church, in the weeks to come.
“I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they’re strictly necessary,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the medical experts on the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday that mitigation efforts are working and that “it’s the best tool” to keep the virus from further spreading.
Birx said that models projecting the number of US deaths from coronavirus have dropped dramatically in recent days because Americans have drastically changed their behavior.
“That’s what’s changing the rate of new cases, and that’s what will change the rate of mortality going forward,” Brix said.
Fauci on Thursday cautioned that Americans should not take that data to mean they should ease up on mitigation.
“We’ve got to continue in many respects to redouble our efforts at the mitigation of physical separation in order to keep those numbers down and hopefully even get those lower,” Fauci said on “CBS This Morning.”
During a conference call with Democratic House members on Wednesday, Fauci told lawmakers that the White House task force has been working on establishing a framework of how Americans will be able to return to normalcy, a source told CNN.
On CBS, Fauci said that a return to normalcy is “not going to be a light switch that you turn on and off” but may happen gradually depending on where you live.
“It is very likely that we will progress towards the steps towards normalization as we get to the end of this thirty days, and I think that’s going to be a good time how quickly can we make that,” Fauci said. “Hopefully by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps toward that direction.”
Barr frequently wears a mask around the Justice Department as he continues to report to work during the pandemic. He also wears one along with his security detail when he commutes into Washington every morning, he told Fox News in the interview.
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.