White House shifts from raising alarms to reopening country

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Protesters drive by in a convertible car during a rally calling for an end to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, outside of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

WASHINGTON – For weeks, the Trump administration played up the dangers of the coronavirus as it sought to persuade Americans to disrupt their lives and stay home. Now, as President Donald Trump aims for a swift nationwide reopening, he faces a new challenge: convincing people it's safe to come out and resume their normal lives.

It’s a defining question for a cloistered nation — and a political imperative for Trump, whose reelection likely rides on the pace of an economic rebound.

Can the country move beyond a crippling fear of the virus and return to some modified version of its old routines, doing what's possible to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 but acknowledging it may be a fact of life for years to come?

“We need to create the kind of confidence in America that makes it so that everybody goes back to work,” said Kevin Hassett, a White House adviser and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. “And that confidence is going to require testing and confidence that your workplace is a healthy place, but also confidence in the economy.”

At the White House, officials believe they’ve entered a new chapter of the pandemic response, moving from crisis mode to sustained mitigation and management.

It began last Thursday with the release of guidelines to governors for how to safely reopen their states. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence celebrated Americans for successfully “flattening the curve” of the epidemic.

A day later, a phalanx of the administration’s top medical officials sought to reassure the nation that there were plenty of tests available to safely begin easing restrictions.

Governors have been lifting restrictions each day since then, including aggressive moves announced Wednesday in Montana and Oklahoma. The Montana governor gave schools the green light to open their doors in early May, and Oklahoma will allow salons, barbershops, spas and pet groomers to reopen Friday.