President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington. Credit: Alex Brandon | AP

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WASHINGTON — A week ago President Donald Trump asked all Americans to stay home for 15 days to slow the spread of the coronavirus. States followed suit, with many governors and public health officials issuing orders to shutter restaurants and bars, restrict how many people could gather and shut down schools.

Now the president appears ready to get businesses back open as the economy freezes up from many people heeding the orders to isolate themselves.


But the president has limited authority over what states are doing to put the brakes on the coronavirus and to “flatten the curve” of infections. He can’t easily roll back emergency orders from states that closed businesses and in some areas ordered people to shelter in place.

Governors and state public health officials get the authority to declare an emergency from their state constitutions.

“These rules, these orders have mostly been issued by governors,” said James Nash, spokesman for the National Governors Association. “They and they alone would have the authority to relax those orders.”

In an interview with McClatchy News, Nash said actions that restrict gatherings and other binding orders have mostly been at the state level. “That really underscores the leadership by governors of both parties around the country,” he said.

Many public health officials think keeping up the isolation period is vital to slowing the spread of the outbreak, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

“The kinds of mitigation issues that are going on right now, the things that we’re seeing in this country, this physical separation at the same time as we’re preventing an influx of cases coming in, I think that’s going to go a long way to preventing us from becoming an Italy,” Fauci said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Italy has had more than 60,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,000 deaths as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Italy’s response has been criticized for being too slow even though the country shut schools and locked down first the northeast of the nation, then the rest of the country. “Italy has been devastated by the virus because the action it took was just a little too moderate, a little too restrained, and a little too slow,” according to Vox.

[Interactive map: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in each state]

“The lesson from Italy isn’t just that you have to act before your hospitals are overwhelmed. It’s that you have to take steps that appear in the moment to be an exceptional overreaction — because by the time it looks like the steps you’re taking are appropriate, it will have been too late,” Vox reports.

Every state and territory in the United States has declared an emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National Governors Association. Thirty-seven states have issued mandatory limits on gatherings and at least 36 states have closed or limited the operations of nonessential businesses like bars, restaurants, music venues and casinos, the NGA said.

The Los Angeles Times wrote recently, “The governmental power at issue here is the power to safeguard the public. In the United States, that power is held primarily by the officials closest to the people — the ones in local and state governments. It’s mayors like L.A.’s Eric Garcetti and governors like (California’s Gavin) Newsom who are imposing the restrictions that are sending the economy into a free fall. And Trump can’t stop them.’

Some of Trump’s most loyal supporters in the Senate say the isolation should continue. “We are fighting a two-front war — trying to destroy the virus while keeping the economy afloat. As Fauci has consistently said, we should always err on the side of doing more — not less — when it comes to containment,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Twitter Monday.

“President Trump’s best decision was stopping travel from China early on,” Graham tweeted. “I hope we will not undercut that decision by suggesting we back off aggressive containment policies within the United States.”

©2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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