Trump: U.S. isn't 'built to be shut down' over virus

Justin Sink
Bloomberg News

Washington – President Donald Trump said the American economy can’t remain slowed for too long to fight the coronavirus, declaring that the country “was not built to be shut down.”

“America will again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon,” Trump said. “A lot sooner than three or four months.”

The president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, James Bullard, said Monday that the government should consider shutting down much of the economy for three months to combat the outbreak.

Trump didn’t mention Bullard, but said: “We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.”

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump began discussing how to get Americans back to work last week, according to people familiar with the matter – just days after endorsing “social distancing” measures that have slowed the economy as people stay home from work and avoid eating out and socializing.

“I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now. We’re going to be opening up our country,” Trump said. “Can’t keep it closed for the next, you know, for years. This is going away.”

He said that if the economy is forced into a deep enough recession by social distancing measures, there could be deaths from suicides and other causes in excess of those caused by the coronavirus.

Parts of the nation might be able to resume economic activity even as others fight outbreaks, he said.

“We can start thinking about, as an example, parts of our country are very lightly affected,” he said.

“We can do two things at one time,” he said. “Our country has learned a lot. We’ve learned about social distancing, we’ve learned about the hands.”

Deborah Birx, the State Department physician who advises Vice President Mike Pence on the government’s response to the outbreak, said she did not think that Trump’s optimism about soon relaxing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines against large gatherings and eating at restaurants would discourage people from following the recommendations.

“What we’re asking every American to do is to make those personal sacrifices for this next week, and now, so we can evaluate the impact of that sacrifice,” she said at the same news conference. Trump’s musing about easing the restrictions, she said, “strengthens the willpower” of Americans to conclude “yes, I can do this.”

She declined to say how she would recommend that Trump proceed, saying the government was still gathering “data” on the outbreak. The number of U.S. cases grew to more than 43,000 on Monday, and the country exceeded 500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Asked if he would follow the advice of Birx and Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director who also serves on Trump’s coronavirus task force, Trump said only that he would listen to them.

“I’ll be listening to them and others we have who are doing a good job,” he said.