WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ahead of an expected surge in coronavirus cases, President Donald Trump on Tuesday moved to blunt the impact of the pandemic on a U.S. economy fundamentally altered by a push for the nation to stay home.
As the global markets fluctuated amid fears of a recession, the president conferred with tourism executives as well as restaurant leaders, retailers and suppliers. His administration was expected to propose a roughly $850 billion emergency economic stimulus to address the free-fall, including considering the sending of checks to American workers trying to make their way in the deeply unsettled economy.
U.S. businesses large and small were reeling from shutdowns, cancellations and public fear about the virus as the number of cases rose nationwide. Stocks moved higher on Wall Street on Tuesday, a day after plunging to their worst losses in more than three decades.
The president again urged Americans to follow sweeping guidelines that for the next two weeks would temporarily rewrite the norms of society, including for older residents to stay home and for all people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 as well as restaurants and bars.
“By making shared sacrifices, we can protect the health of our people and our economy and I think our economy will come back very rapidly," Trump said. “If we do this right, our country and the world, frankly, but our country can be rolling again ... very quickly."
Trump, maintaining his newly somber tone about the crisis enveloping the globe, urged Americans to work from home and urged the nation's cities and states to issue restrictions to promote distancing in line with new federal guidelines. He promised a dramatic increase in access to coronavirus tests, ventilators, hospital beds and telehealth services. His administration said it would coordinate responses with the states, push for construction workers to give masks to health care workers and, if needed, use the Army Corps of Engineers to build more hospital space.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the administration's lead negotiator with Congress, said tax filings could be delayed and vowed that the stock markets would remain open but their hours could be shortened. The president pledged to maintain the safety of elections while voters in three states went to the polls Tuesday even as Ohio postponed its primary. Officials said assistance could be offered to the airlines, hotels cruise ships and airplane manufacturers.
In a meeting with hotel industry leaders, Trump listened as executives outlined the impact to their business. They told him that business was dropping by the day and that some hotels had occupancy rates in the single digits. That compared to a 67% percent occupancy rate for the industry last year, said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“We’re probably under 20% nationwide and headed south," Rogers said. “If by the end of the year we get up to 35 percent and nothing else happens, that will be about 4 million jobs lost.”
Trump sought to emphasize how much the economy would improve once past the outbreak.
“One day we’re going to stand up here and say, ‘We won,'" Trump told the White House briefing where reporters sat in alternating seats to maintain a safe distance. “As sure as you're sitting there, we're going to say that.”
The president's declaration of resolve came a day after, for the first time, he acknowledged that the pandemic may send the economy into a recession and suggested the nation may be dealing with the virus until “July or August.” The president and his team on Tuesday cautioned Americans to prepare for a lengthy change to their daily routines as it could be more than a month before the impact of his 15-day guidelines outlined Monday could even be measured.
Trump said his coronavirus task force had considered, but was not ready to implement, any sort of domestic travel ban, but he urged Americans to forgo trips even to places not heavily impacted by the virus. “Enjoy your homes, enjoy your living room," he said.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the federal response to the virus, on Tuesday called for the "army of millennials" to lead the charge in fighting back against the coronavirus.
Birx told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the nation needs millennials doing everything they can, including staying home from bars, to protect themselves from getting infected but also safeguarding their parents and grandparents. She said most millennials who get infected would have mild symptoms and were not as at risk as older Americans. Millennials, a term referring to those born in the 1980s to early 1990s, also tended to be good at networking and sharing information, Birx said.
Trump's tone Tuesday was far less optimistic than his earlier predictions, when he insisted it could be over in weeks. And his admission that the outbreak may send the economy into a recession was startling for Trump, who for two weeks had struck a discordantly optimistic tone about the pandemic that endangered his presidency.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.
The worldwide outbreak has sickened more than 185,000 people and killed more than 7,300.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor, Deb Riechmann and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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