Governors sketch out new ‘normal’ as Trump eyes reopening parts of country

“It would really be the worst possible time for us to try to put more people out there and endanger them,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, chairman of the National Governors Association, said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show about the prospect of lifting restrictions now.

The White House on Thursday issued general guidance for a phased reopening that leaves the final say with state and local officials and suggests governors work on a regional basis where appropriate. Trump was set to announce the guidelines at a Thursday evening briefing.

Hogan has not yet set a date for what he called a “recovery phase” for his state, and said it won’t be possible to do so until four “building blocks” are in place: expanding testing capabilities, increasing hospital surge capacity, bolstering the supply of personal protective equipment and establishing a comprehensive contact tracing operation.

“Everybody wants to get our economy back and get people back to work and get our small businesses open,” he said. “But we also want to make sure we do it in a safe way and we’re not just ramping things back up and endangering the lives of thousands of people.”

New Jersey’s Phil Murphy on Wednesday described a scenario Wednesday of restaurants operating at 50 percent capacity, with tables spaced apart from one another, staffed by waiters wearing masks and gloves.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom sees the possibility of staggering school schedules to avoid grouping too many students into a room at once, while restaurants and other businesses could check customers’ temperatures at the door. Large gatherings for sports events or concerns will have to wait until next year, or whenever a vaccine is available, he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that he’s extending his shutdown order limiting in-person work to essential businesses until May 15, adding that his administration needs to see the infection rate continue to drop before strict social distancing measures can be lifted.

Cuomo said the state’s workforce would be phased back in the same manner New York shut down, scaling up by 25 percent, then 50 percent and continuing with “more essential” businesses with lower risks of infection opening sooner.

“You stopped everything. How do you now restart that machine in a coordinated way that doesn’t drive up the infection rate?” he asked. “Are there certain businesses that are inherently safer or can be safer? These are all questions that we have to work through on a case by case basis but there is a matrix and the matrix is how important is the business to society, how essential a service and how risky is that business from a rate of infection.”

Newsom hasn’t set a date to begin a gradual reopening of his huge state, saying it would depend on what local health officials on the ground are reporting about the flattened curve of the virus’ spread.

He, Cuomo and other governors have also formed regional coalitions, reflecting a kind of “hold-hands-and-jump” resolve to reopen together so that no one state has to take on excessive risk or the chance of cross-transmission with a state that has a different set of precautions.

Trump and his top health officials have pointed to the eight red, rural states that never imposed shelter-in-place orders as top candidates for leading the rest of the country out. But as cases spike in many of those states, including Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, governors are still debating when and how to lift the restrictions they have imposed — such as closing schools, businesses and public spaces.

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