Donald Trump has left US governors free to reopen public and economic life in their states from May 1. “You make the decisions,” the US President said Thursday in a phone call with the governors. A few days ago, Trump had made the most dubious constitutional claim that the decision to reopen the country was up to him alone. He has now moved away from this – at least for political as well as legal reasons: if the governors in the states decide to return to a reasonably normal life, they, not the president, are also responsible if something goes wrong.
However, the White House has given the states a kind of guideline that they should follow when reopening. The start-up of public life and the economy is divided into three phases. Each phase is linked to certain measurable and medically relevant criteria, including significantly lower infection and death rates and sufficient hospital capacity. Only if these criteria are met should it be possible to decide on curfews, school and business closures?
In Washington, this cautious, step-by-step approach was attributed to the fact that the road map was largely co-written by the medical advisors in Trump’s environment. They wanted to prevent some states with low infection rates from reopening too quickly, thereby jeopardizing the success of curfews in other parts of the country.
However, Trump’s opening schedule contains a serious problem: The White House requires that the states have enough tests to be able to track down and isolate as many people as possible and their contact persons. This is extremely important for the success of the plan because this is the only way to avoid an undetected spread of the coronavirus. However, there is currently far from enough testing capacity in the US, and the country lags far behind other countries in the world such as Germany or South Korea. Even in states like New York, where a lot of testing is done, less than two percent of the population has been screened so far. In other countries, the proportion of citizens tested is well below one percent.
Trump’s plan also leaves it up to the governors to take care of the tests. The president promised that the federal government would assist and support the states. However, it is currently unclear what this aid should look like, for example, whether Washington will fund a test program for tens of millions of Americans from the federal budget. This could lead to testing in the states with very different intensities in the coming weeks.
However, for political reasons, it was important to present a road map to reopen the country. The corona crisis has plunged the United States into a dramatic economic depression; 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past four weeks because the economy is practically stagnant across the country. Especially in conservative circles, the question is raised whether this economic devastation is justified, even if the virus has so far killed more than 33,000 people. In the states of Michigan and Ohio, angry citizens have moved to the Houses of Parliament in the past few days and have demanded a relaxation of curfews and business closures. In this respect, it was probably necessary to show citizens a possible way out of the crisis.
In practice, Trump’s plan will probably lead to the fact that America’s economy and public life are being started up again very differently in terms of region and time. In some states, including California and New York, which make up a large part of America’s economic output, democratic governors have already ruled that the restrictions will apply until at least mid-May.
Republican states such as Texas or Florida, on the other hand, could decide to ease the situation in the next few days. Whether it works in a country with an integrated economy to go to individual parts while others remain closed is open. It is also unclear what is happening in metropolitan areas that span multiple states.