Trump outlines plan to classify counties by risk level for coronavirus

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNorth Korea asking for aid, while denying any coronavirus cases: report Iranian official maintains Tehran has ‘no knowledge’ of American hostage’s whereabouts Unemployment claims surge to 3.2 million as coronavirus devastates economy MORE on Thursday outlined plans for his administration to classify each county across the United States based on its risk for an outbreak of coronavirus and use that information to create targeted guidelines.

In a letter to the nation’s governors, Trump spoke optimistically about expanded testing capabilities that would allow officials to identify which areas of the country are grappling with outbreaks and where the virus is spreading.

Based on that surveillance testing data, federal agencies would determine if a specific county is high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk for the virus. The administration is simultaneously working on new guidelines for social distancing that would apply to an area depending on its classification, Trump wrote. 

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“With each passing day, our increasingly extensive testing capabilities are giving us a better understanding of the virus and its path,” Trump wrote. “As testing gives us more information about who has been infected, we are tracking the virus and isolating it to prevent further spread. This new information will drive the next phase in our war against this invisible enemy.”

It’s unclear how quickly the administration expects to be able to roll out the extensive classification system. The federal government’s initial response to the virus was hampered by a slow rollout of nationwide testing availability, and many regions are still facing shortages.

Trump had a call with governors earlier Thursday that was closed to the press. He and Vice President Pence have been in regular contact with state leaders to coordinate the response to the virus, which has infected more than 75,000 Americans and killed more than 1,000 people in the U.S.

In the letter, which was somber and serious in tone, Trump nodded toward his goal of reopening at least parts of the economy by Easter Sunday, which is less than three weeks away.

“There is still a long battle reached, but our efforts are already paying dividends,” he wrote. “As we enhance protections against the virus, Americans across the country are hoping the day will soon arrive when they can resume their normal economic, social and religious lives.”

But governors have largely been implementing strict measures in their respective states to try and blunt the spread of the virus. Governors in Idaho, Michigan, California, Illinois, Ohio, New York and other states have issued stay-at-home orders or shuttered non-essential businesses.

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State leaders in both parties have dismissed Trump’s Easter timeframe for easing those restrictions, saying public health will take priority and warning the peak of cases may be occurring around that time. 

Even public health experts in Trump’s administration have tempered the president’s ambitious goal for loosening restrictions. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters on Tuesday that officials still needed more data to determine whether areas without current outbreaks might face them soon.

“I think people might get the misinterpretation you’re just going to lift everything up and… that’s not going to happen,” Fauci said. “It’s going to be looking at the data.”