White House Announces New Social Distancing Guidelines Around Coronavirus

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 16, 2020 7:54 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Once again, President Trump, Vice President Pence and the coronavirus task force spoke to reporters at the White House today, updating the latest guidance on how Americans should try to avoid COVID-19.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Therefore, my administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Richard Harris is following the story and is here in the studio.

Hi, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what the new guidelines say. They seem much stricter.

HARRIS: They are indeed much stricter. Just last week, the CDC was discouraging gatherings of more than 250 people, and that was only in places like Seattle. Over the weekend, they said, better keep it to under 50. And today, the guidelines is to keep gatherings at no more than 10 people. They don't mandate this, but they do ask people not to go to bars, restaurants and food courts.

SHAPIRO: Any sense of how long these restrictions are likely to stay in place?

HARRIS: Well, this advisory holds for the next 15 days, although it could be renewed. And the president did say the emergency could stretch into July or August.

SHAPIRO: Has the U.S. ever done anything like this before?

HARRIS: I think it is truly extraordinary. Now, China did this and more, I might add, including clamping down on domestic travel, and they did it with the force of law. That did bring the epidemic there under control. Dr. Anthony Fauci at the NIH anticipated that people would say this seems like an overreaction. But he said you are always behind where you think you are in a situation like this. The virus is spreading faster than our knowledge of it.

These measures require all sorts of actions from everybody, even people who think they aren't vulnerable. And Dr. Deborah Birx, who coordinates the White House response, especially singled out millennials.

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DEBORAH BIRX: I want to speak particularly to our largest generation now, our millennials. They are the core group that will stop this virus. We're asking all of them to hold their gatherings to under 10 people.

SHAPIRO: Testing has been a big issue, and a member of the White House task force today, Admiral Brett Giroir, had some updates on where things stand. What did he say?

HARRIS: Testing is - been a huge issue, and it has been ramping up quickly. We heard today at the briefing that a million tests would be available this week and millions more in the weeks to come, but not exactly because the real bottleneck is taking those samples - that requires a great deal of care and attention to infection control - that people wear these gowns and they're very careful not to expose themselves while they're taking these nasal swabs and so on - and then getting those to labs.

So this week, the actual testing capacity, Giroir says, is probably more like a few tens of thousands of tests a day. That's a big improvement, but it's certainly not going to be enough to meet the demand. We've heard so many people clamoring for tests. So for now, the White House is saying, please, please, please, if - let people who need the tests most get them first. That includes people over 65 who are showing symptoms, as well as health care workers.

SHAPIRO: And every day, we're getting reports of more cities and states closing restaurants, bars, other public gathering places. In California today, people in six counties in the Bay Area were told to shelter in place. That affects millions of people. What does that mean, and what does it tell us about where this epidemic is?

HARRIS: Well, that is a really dramatic move and perhaps a harbinger of things to come. It does mean that people are being told to stay home as much as they possibly can. If they go out, they're supposed to keep a distance of 6 feet between people. And no gatherings are allowed. Essential businesses like gas stations and food stores can remain open. And this is somewhat reminiscent of what Italy has done to try to stop the epidemic there. But it is, as you say, just a really remarkably big step forward.

SHAPIRO: And these are big steps that are being taken in the Bay Area. Other cities may yet do so as the week goes on.

HARRIS: Yes, we've been hearing a lot of other things of mandatory closings of bars in places like Chicago and other big cities. So you know, this - our lives are changing under our feet, and it's quite remarkable how quickly things are shifting.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Richard Harris; thank you for bringing us up to speed on this.

HARRIS: Pleased to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.