President Donald Trump urged Americans to avoid traveling and gathering in public spaces in an effort to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, saying the outbreak could last into July or August.
“If everyone makes this change, or these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus,” Trump said in the White House briefing room. “We’re going to have a big celebration all together.”
Trump announced the new guidelines during a press briefing Monday afternoon. Officials recommended that for the next 15 days Americans avoid gatherings of more than 10 people; avoid discretionary travel; avoid eating in bars, restaurants and food courts; and work or engage in schooling from home when possible.
“We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it,” Trump said.
The president’s comments on Monday marked his most direct appeal yet for Americans to take the virus seriously and avoid public settings where the coronavirus can be easily spread.
Trump told reporters that the coronavirus could continue to factor into American life into July or August.
“They think August, it could be July, could be longer than that,” Trump said, referring to answers he has gotten when consulting public health officials on the timeline.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, clarified after Trump’s remarks that the guidelines would not necessarily last until the summer months but rather that timeline was one potential trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The guidelines are a 15 day trial guideline to be reconsidering,” Fauci said. “It isn’t that these guidelines are going to be in effect until July. What the president was saying is that the trajectory of the outbreak may go until then.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci calls on Americans to take the new coronavirus guidelines in social distancing “very seriously.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 16, 2020
Trump signaled agreement with him from the podium.
“We have an invisible enemy,” the president said at a news conference, where he released guidelines that called for people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and to steer clear of eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts. “This is a bad one. This is a very bad one.”
Trump also said he wasn’t considering a nationwide lockdown, but that “certain areas” of the country with large numbers of cases could take such measures.
“At this point, not nationwide,” the president said. “We may look at certain areas, certain hotspots as they call them.”
A number of state and local officials have already ordered closures of restaurants, bars, schools and other public places in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday evening also recommended that Americans cancel gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
Fauci urged American citizens to take the new guidelines seriously even if they seemed to go “too far.”
“When you’re dealing with an emerging infectious disease outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are if you think that today reflects where you really are,” Fauci said.
“We hope that the people of the United States will take them very seriously because they will fail if people don’t adhere to them,” he said.
We’re not thinking in terms of recession. We’re thinking in terms of the virus,” the president continued. “Once we stop, I think there’s a tremendous pent-up demand both in terms of the stock market, in terms of the economy.”
The president’s remarks came as rising fears about the impact of the coronavirus on the economy sent stock prices into freefall Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average collapsed 2,999 points, or 12.9%, to close at 20,188.52 – its second worst percentage loss in history behind the “Black Monday” crash in 1987.