President Donald Trump reversed himself on Sunday, extending national social-distancing guidelines to April 30 in effort to keep the projected coronavirus death toll in the U.S. from reaching a catastrophic, worst-case scenario.
Trump' previously said he wanted the country to reopen for business by Easter. Public health experts have warned that loosening restrictions by Easter, on April 12, would result in unnecessary death and economic damage. Trump had suggested that the coronavirus death rate would likely peak within two weeks.
"Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory has been won," Trump said at an evening press briefing. The president claimed Sunday that Easter was just an "aspiration" and he hopes the country will "be well on our way to recovery" by June 1.
Trump said his administration was extending the guidelines to avoid a major death toll. The president pointed to modeling that forecast 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. if drastic measures weren't taken to mitigate the outbreak. Trump said the administration is working to keep the projected death toll below 100,000.
"So if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000, it's a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job," Trump said.
Earlier in the day, White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country could see up to 200,000 deaths and millions of infections, though he cautioned that the numbers are based on models and nothing is certain.
There are about 140,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., including at least 2,400 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
While Trump can issue federal guidelines, the president doesn't have the power to decide if the country can reopen, since those decisions are being made by governors. The Trump administration's guidance advises people to stay mostly at home and avoid groups of more than 10.
States across the country have strongly advised residents to stay indoors except for essential reasons, and schools, restaurants and other businesses have shuttered. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents to avoid nonessential travel to other states for 14 days.
Trump on Sunday also claimed — without evidence or specifics — that hospitals and health-care workers were hoarding ventilators, which are in scarce supply across the country.
City and state officials have consistently called for more medical supplies as hospitals see a major influx of patients.