President Donald Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have both acknowledged that the economic slowdown from coronavirus is unsustainable, but the two Queens-born politicos differ on how quickly the United States can get back to business without stoking the pandemic.
Speaking at a press conference, Cuomo laid out a preliminary plan to slowly reintroduce younger people back into the workforce. He also supported widespread testing to identify Americans who have unwittingly recovered from infection.
Cuomo’s proposal was a far more nuanced version of Trump’s pledge Monday that “America will … soon be open for business.”
Trump said that he will relax White House guidelines encouraging Americans to practice social distancing, avoid discretionary travel and avoid restaurants, bars and other businesses.
The White House proposed 15-day guidelines on March 16 encouraging social distancing measures. They are not legally enforceable, but many states and cities have adopted them by limiting crowd sizes and issuing “stay-at-home” orders.
Trump said there would be “tremendous repercussions” to a protracted economic standstill.
“We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem,” he said.
Trump’s comments reflect a growing sense of economic unease as unemployment rates have already started skyrocketing. But his remarks also stoked concerns that a focus on the economy will come at the cost controlling the spread of coronavirus.
“Don’t make us choose between a smart health strategy and a smart economic strategy,” Cuomo said Tuesday.
“We can do both, and we must do both.”
The Democrat said coronavirus cases are reaching “astronomical numbers” in New York City, and are likely to explode over the next two weeks.
“We’re not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own,” he said.
While slowing the virus was Cuomo’s chief focus, he also acknowledged Trump’s concern that social distancing policies are “unsustainable.”
“There is no doubt about that. No one is going to argue against that,” Cuomo said of an extended economic standstill.
But he added that “job 1 has to be to save lives.”
Cuomo supports a far more deliberate economic restart than what Trump is backing. Trump told reporters Tuesday that he would like to have the U.S. “opened up and raring to go” by Easter, which is April 12.
Cuomo said the number of coronavirus cases in New York is expected to peak in 14 to 21 days. As of Tuesday, New York state had nearly 26,000 cases out of 50,000 in the U.S.. New York City has nearly 15,000 of those.
Cuomo said officials are developing blood tests to spot individuals who have recovered from coronavirus who did not know that they were ever infected.
“People who are recovered, you test them, you test the antibodies, you find out that they resolved themselves of the virus,” said Cuomo, who estimated that hundreds of thousands of people contracted coronavirus without knowing it.
“Once they’re resolved they can go back to work.”
“Ramp up the economy with those individuals. So you’re refining your public health strategy, and at the same time you’re restarting your economy. Those two can be consistent if you do it intelligently.”
Cuomo also said “lower-risk individuals” should not be quarantined with older people, who are at higher risk of death from coronavirus.
Cuomo’s slower path to recovery is in line with several health policy experts, including Scott Gottlieb, who served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Trump administration.
Gottlieb has for weeks called for increased testing for coronavirus as a strategy to identify people who are asymptomatic, and who could be unwittingly spreading the virus. He has also endorsed using blood serum tests to find out who has already been infected.
“Once you hit a peak in the number of cases and you start to come down that epidemic curve you can start to substitute in case-based interventions,” Gottlieb said Tuesday on CNBC.
“You can slowly take your foot off the brake of population-based mitigation and press down on those case-based interventions and hopefully we’ll have more screening in place, and that will help us do that.”