Health and Science

Vice President Mike Pence says 16 states have unveiled plans to lift coronavirus restrictions

Key Points
  • Sixteen states have released "formal reopening plans" to lift coronavirus restrictions, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday.
  • Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Idaho have all released plans to lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Pence said.
  • The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for the complete list of states.
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Pence: 16 states have released formal reopening plans

Sixteen states have unveiled "formal reopening plans" to lift coronavirus restrictions, Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, as the country shows "promising signs of progress" on driving down the spread of Covid-19.

"At the present moment, 16 states have released formal reopening plans," Pence said at a White House press briefing. "States are beginning to make those plans and we're encouraged to see so many states embracing the phased approach to reopening their economies that's contemplated in our guidelines for opening up America again."

Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Idaho have all released plans to lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Pence said. The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for the complete list of states.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to reopen parts of the economy as soon as Friday, starting with retail locations such as gyms, barber shops, fitness centers and bowling alleys. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he "totally disagrees" with the decision to reopen those businesses first.

"I want the states to open more than he does," Trump said Thursday in reference to Kemp. "I don't want this thing to flare up because you're deciding to do something that is not in the guidelines."

Last week, Trump unveiled broad federal guidelines that lay out conditions for parts of the U.S. to start relaxing some of the strict social distancing measures in a three-phase approach. Before entering the first phase, the guidelines say that the number of cases, positive tests and reports of flu- or Covid 19-like symptoms in a state or region should be trending downward.

There should also be a "robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing," according to the guidelines. 

Several so-called hot spots that were hit particularly hard, including the New York-metro area, New Jersey and Detroit "all appear to be past their peak," Pence said. He added that new hospitalizations are declining across the country. 

"Our only conclusion is that we're getting there, America," he said. "We are making meaningful progress."

However, lifting restrictions that have so-far beaten back the spread of the virus, according to Pence, could lead to a devastating resurgence of infections, some state and local officials have cautioned. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned earlier Thursday that lifting restrictions before the necessary infrastructure is in place could "backfire" and "set us back by months."

Widespread testing and tracing of people who come into contact with infected individuals will be crucial to easing restrictions and reopening the city, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, de Blasio said. Pence said Thursday that the country has performed more than 4.9 million tests for Covid-19, which is less than 2% of the country's population.

The White House coronavirus task force will speak with all U.S. governors on Friday to discuss the nation's efforts to ramp up testing capacity, Pence said. He added that 35,000 national guard have been deployed across the country to support the coronavirus response, which includes boosting access to testing.

Trump later added "we're very advanced in testing," adding that new tests will be "coming out" to improve the capacity to test as well as the nation's ability to process the tests. The process currently requires supplies that are often scarce, including swabs, test kits and reagents, or chemicals necessary to analyze the tests.

The administration is now also calling on states to resume elective surgeries, which were largely suspended as health systems sought to boost capacity for an expected surge of Covid-19 patients, Pence announced. He said several states have already unveiled plans to do so, including Arizona and Indiana.

Such procedures are crucial to the business model of both private and public hospitals across the country, which have struggled financially as they face a wave of Covid-19 patients. Earlier Thursday, the House passed a $484 billion package that includes $75 billion in grants to hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.

"Given the unique burden on hospitals, we are now encouraging states to restart elective surgeries wherever possible, either statewide or on a county-by-county basis," he said. "We recognize the role elective surgeries play in finances for local hospitals and we'll be working with states to enable that."