Trump to rank US counties by coronavirus risk, may ‘relax’ social distancing

President Trump took an initial step toward reopening the US in time for Easter, announcing his administration will rank counties by coronavirus risk and urge low-risk areas to relax rules.

Trump, pushing to reopen the country by the Christian holiday, on April 12, outlined the plan in a letter to governors after reporting that a record 3.28 million people — 2 percent of the US workforce — applied for unemployment benefits last week.

Counties will be ranked high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk, and federal guidance may recommend “relaxing social distancing,” the Thursday letter says.

“There is still a long battle ahead, but our efforts are already paying dividends,” Trump wrote. “As we enhance protections against the virus, Americans across the country are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal economic, social, and religious lives.”

Trump continued: “In furtherance of this shared goal, my Administration is working to publish new guidelines for State and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place. This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the Nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus.”

According to Trump, the ranking system will “incorporate robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country.”

“Under these data-driven criteria,” Trump wrote, “we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”

New York is hardest hit in the COVID-19 crisis with half of the 75,000 US cases — passing 37,000 Thursday — and New Jersey is second with more than 4,400 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracking database.

Trump says he wants at least regions of the US to restart life as normal in less than three weeks for Easter.

“I think there are certain people that would like [the economy] to do financially poorly, because they think that would be very good as far as defeating me at the polls,” Trump said at a Wednesday press conference.  “I’m not going to do anything rash or hastily — I don’t do that. But the country wants to get back to work.”

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