WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 1 target for restarting the economy is “overly optimistic,” his top infectious disease adviser said on Tuesday, after a battle erupted between Trump and state governors over who has the power to lift restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said public health officials must be able to test for the virus quickly, isolate new cases and track down new infections before social-distancing restrictions can be eased.
Trump’s administration has recommended stay-at-home guidelines through the end of April, and Trump has floated May 1 as a possible date to start reopening some areas.
That date may be “a bit overly optimistic,” Fauci, who has become a trusted national figure during the pandemic, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Trump, a Republican running for re-election on Nov. 3, lashed out at Democratic state governors, suggesting they were “mutineers” after New York’s Andrew Cuomo said he would refuse any order by the president to reopen the economy too soon.
“If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it,” Cuomo told CNN early in the day, referring to Trump.
At a news conference later, Cuomo added, “We don’t have a king in this country, we have a Constitution and we elect the president.”
The coronavirus restrictions have crippled the U.S. economy – with businesses forced to close and million of Americans becoming unemployed – a development that could hurt Trump’s re-election prospects.
‘MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY’
Offering an expansive assessment of the powers of the presidency, Trump on Monday asserted he had ultimate authority to reopen the largely shuttered economy even though he earlier had deferred to the governors in putting social-distancing orders in place.
Cuomo, a Democrat whose state has been the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, and governors of six other northeastern states said on Monday they would formulate a regional plan to gradually lift the restrictions.
On the Pacific Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state said they also would take a regional approach, but cautioned that any large-scale reopening would depend on a decline in the rate of spread in their area.
Trump, whose attacks on Democrats appeal to his conservative political base, posted tweets attacking Cuomo individually and Democratic governors in general.
“Tell the Democrat Governors that ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’ was one of my all time favorite movies,” the Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, referring to a film classic about a rebellion against the commanding officer of a British naval vessel in the late 18th century.
“A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!” Trump wrote.
Trump pushed back against the idea that governors should determine when and how to reopen their state economies, insisting that he had that right as president.
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said at a Monday news briefing. “The governors know that.”
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with people who had recovered from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, at the White House on Tuesday and heard stories about their recoveries.
Some Republicans, including the governors of Ohio, Maryland and New Hampshire, have also said the states had the right to decide when and how to reopen the economy.
SIGNS OF SLOWING
The political posturing coincides with fresh signs the pandemic has been slowing in New York and other states where it struck early.
The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 stood at nearly 25,000 on Tuesday, out of more than 584,000 known U.S. infections.
Hospitalizations in New York have fallen for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, Cuomo said, adding, “We think we are at the apex on the plateau.”
“It has been the most painful number every day,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said 778 New Yorkers died in the past day, up from 671 a day earlier that had marked the lowest daily death count since April 5. A total of 10,834 New Yorkers have died due to COVID-19.
Democratic Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, who is part of the regional coalition seeking to coordinate their reopening plans, on Tuesday called Trump’s comments “background noise.”
David Reich, president of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said even if hospital admissions there had leveled off, it still remains an extraordinary time of strain for staff and resources.
“The plateau is not a very comfortable place to live,” he said in a telephone interview. “So I don’t think people should be celebrating prematurely.”
Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey, Tom Hals, Nick Brown, Jonathan Allen, Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne; Writing by Will Dunham and Maria Caspani; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller