President Trump extends national social distancing guidelines, but is it enough?


Emma Seely, Managing Editor

On Sunday, March 29 President Donald Trump announced that he will be extending national social distancing guidelines until at least April 30. This decision is a reversal of his original plan to reopen the country’s businesses by April 12, Easter Sunday. Although experts agree that the extension will help lessen the negative effects of coronavirus in the US, many still wonder if Trump has consistently done enough to protect US citizens. 


Even as Trump championed his idea of opening the country by Easter, public health experts said loosening up on guidelines would have led to unnecessarily high death numbers in the country, with some statistical models predicting up to 2.2 million deaths could occur unless drastic, long lasting, distancing measures were taken. Most models seem to agree that the longer the distancing measures remain, the lower the death count will be, although models can only offer predictions. At his press briefing, Trump stated that if the total number of deaths in the US falls between 100,000 and 200,000, then “we all together have done a very good job.” 


According to Dr. Christine Day, Professor and Chair of UNO’s Department of Political Science, Trump’s initial desire to reopen the country was motivated by the fact that he “[wanted] people to feel hopeful and optimistic, and [wanted] the economy humming–both of which would help his reelection chances.” Trump has stated that he hoped the country would reopen restaurants, stores and other commercial entities by Easter to help the economy and avoid a major economic recession. However, Day says “economic experts maintain that reversing course too soon would not help the economy, but would actually hurt it, as people will still be wary of the pandemic, and so many people will be sick or caring for people who are ill.” Trump has now called the idea of reopening by Easter an “aspiration.”


Although the official date of reopening has been pushed back already, and is likely to be pushed back further as more data comes in, there is some concern about Trump’s perceived inability to consistently convey the danger of the situation, and the need to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. On Sunday, Trump stated that “nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory has been won,” but according to Day, Trump has not always felt this way. 


“Up through early March at least, the president was referring to the crisis as a ‘hoax’ perpetrated by Democrats, and falsely comparing its mortality rate to that of the flu,” says Day. “But by mid-March he contended that he had  ‘always viewed it as very serious,’ and that ‘[he] felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.’” 


Trump’s decision to extend social distancing guidelines hopefully reflects a universal understanding of the seriousness of the virus, and the need to retain strict social distancing policies on both local and national levels. Although Trump is only able to offer federal “guidelines”- meaning that state governments are free to issue orders such as sheltering in place or suspending nonessential business as they choose- it is still crucial for all levels of government to agree on the importance of social distancing. 


Before Trump walked back on the idea of reopening by Easter, state governments were attempting to deal with the potential “conflicting messages”, as Day puts it, of local social distancing laws being at odds with relaxed federal guidelines. But now that the guidelines have been extended, local and federal governments can work together to promote the importance of social distancing, and minimize casualties among their citizens. In line with the President’s announcement, Lousianna Governor John Bel Edwards has also extended the state’s stay at home order until at least April 30th. 


As the coronavirus pandemic continues, and the number of infections and fatalities continues to increase, many political scientists, such as Day, are somewhat heartened to see Trump now relying on expert advice to make decisions. However, despite the positive step, many still worry that the delay has worsened the spread of the virus. For now, Trump has stated that in the future he will consistently rely on expert advice in the creation of any additional federal guidelines. 


“My first thought when I saw [his announcement], “ says Day, “was that the experts finally convinced him.”