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Public health experts have said easing restrictions too early could put an enormous strain on hospitals and lead to even more deaths and economic damage.
Image: Donald Trump
By Shannon Pettypiece and Peter Alexander

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the country back to business by April 12, Easter Sunday, when he would like to see churches full of people, even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a Fox News interview.

Trump said he’d like to see “churches packed full of people for Easter,” but that the timeline wasn’t based on data indicating the public health risk could be gone by then. Rather, the president said at a White House briefing, he “just thought it was a beautiful time.” Trump said he would listen to the advice of his top health officials.

Trump is “continuing to evaluate the data, working with the task force, and making decisions based on the interests of our fantastic country,” he said.

Tony Fauci, the top infectious disease researcher at the National Institutes of Health who has at times countered Trump’s messaging, indicated he had discussed a possible timeline with the president before the briefing.

“You can look at the date, but you’ve got to be very flexible on it literally on a day by day, week by week basis,” Fauci said. “You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you’re trying to do, “

Public health experts and local and state leaders have cautioned against easing restrictions too early, saying it could put an enormous strain on hospitals and lead to even more deaths and economic damage. But Trump said Tuesday that he believed the human toll would be greater should Americans continue to stay at home.

“This cure is worse than the problem,” Trump said during a Fox News interview earlier in the day, adding that “in my opinion, more people are going to die if we allow this to continue.”

At the same time, the White House issued strict new guidelines for people who have traveled to New York City, recommending they self-quarantine for 14 days if they recently left the region.

A White House official said the president does not view Easter as a date that he can begin to open things up, but a date by which the economy is speeding again. That means the loosening of restrictions would, under this scenario, start much sooner. The official says the focus now remains on how to get there, in phases, to address the challenges demographically and geographically.

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