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White House Issues New Guidelines For States To Reopening After Coronavirus Shutdowns


The White House is set to announce new guidelines on reopening the country. These guidelines recommend distinct phases by which states can relax their social distancing rules. And states must meet certain requirements to move ahead to each new phase of reopening. The ball will be firmly in the court of governors to decide how to move forward.

Joining us now with more are NPR health correspondent Rob Stein and White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Good to have you both here.


ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Ayesha, let's start with you. President Trump has obviously been impatient to do this. Every day we hear him talk about how urgent it is to restart the economy again. What can you tell us about what's in these guidelines?

RASCOE: So my colleague Tamara Keith obtained a copy of these guidelines, and they're suggesting three phases for states to reopen. And in each phase, the social distancing gets less strict. To move through these phases, a state or region would need to have 14 days where cases of the virus are going down. They're leaving it up to states to decide, but they're recommending that the states also have data, the ability to test people and the ability to trace cases. The guidelines also call for employers to have a system for checking temperatures and doing contract (ph) tracing themselves when people get sick at work.

SHAPIRO: So what kind of social distancing would we see in these three phases?

RASCOE: Phase 1 is similar to what we have now. People most at risk should stay home, and everyone should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and work from home when possible. And schools and bars would remain closed. But you could allow, under this Phase 1, sit-down restaurants to open up, movie theaters, churches but with strict physical-distancing protocols.

And then if it doesn't look like the cases are going up, you could move to Phase 2. You could expand to gatherings - gatherings to about 50 people and even reopen schools. Phase 3 would be where things would return almost to normal, although obviously with the knowledge of this virus, you might not be doing handshakes and things like that, but with vulnerable people going out in public and visits to hospitals allowed again.

But I should - I have to stress that this is just recommendations. This is not something that the federal government is implementing. It would be up to the states.

SHAPIRO: So, Rob, what do public health experts think about these guidelines?

STEIN: Yeah, so the public health experts I've been in touch with are pleased with a lot of what they see here. They think it is a very thoughtful approach in many ways. They like the idea of the phased approach and doing things sort of slowly and making sure there - it's being driven by data and that there are, you know, guidelines into how you should take individual steps and when you should ease things up.

And - but the big concern here - there definitely are some concerns about this. They're concerned - the big one that I've been hear from people is they're - they think there really isn't enough emphasis on testing. I mean, it does mention testing, but it doesn't really give specific criteria for how much testing should be available. And most of the public health experts I've been in touch with say you really need wide-scale testing available to be sure that you can identify any new outbreaks very quickly and stuff them out.

And the same thing goes with what's known as contact tracing. We need kind of an army of contact tracers to identify anybody who might have been exposed. Or else, you know, places that haven't had big problems could suddenly have a big outbreak, or places where you thought things were under control, it could come roaring back. So there certainly are some good things here, but there are things that people are concerned about. And that's not all, actually.

SHAPIRO: And that's not all. You say there's more. I mean, it sounds like perhaps they approve of the framework but don't think there's enough infrastructure to make that framework realistic. Is that what you're saying?

STEIN: Yeah. They'd like to see a lot more specifics about a lot of the things in here. For example, they say there needs to be a downward trend. And how long does it have to continue for exactly? And there's also a reliance on - instead of testing, you know, getting the actual results of testing, there seems to be more of a reliance on what's known as - what's called syndromic surveillance. That's like people showing up at their doctor's offices with symptoms of COVID-19 but who haven't necessarily been tested for COVID-19. And that's being seen by some public experts as an acknowledgement that we really don't have the testing infrastructure in place to really be sure that places, if they do reopen, that they won't get in trouble really quickly and they'll have the facilities to sort of snuff out any new outbreaks.

SHAPIRO: Ayesha, to return to you for a minute, the White House had this call with governors. Does that represent a sort of olive branch in a way after all of this very contentious back and forth about whose responsibility it was?

RASCOE: Well, it seems like President Trump has definitely had to walk back this idea that he has total authority, that the states have to get his permission before they act. And in - he said that at the beginning of this week. But over the past few days, he's acknowledged that it's the governors who are going to be leading this, that he does not have the authority to make them open back up. And he wasn't the one who shut things down. And so it does seem to be an acknowledgment of the fact that he can try to set a tone, but he can't kind of drive this, you know, drive this car when it comes to the reopening.

SHAPIRO: All right, that's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein.

Thank you both.

RASCOE: Thank you.

STEIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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