President Donald Trump at a White House briefing on Monday.

President Donald Trump at a White House briefing on Monday. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski

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Trump's choice

President Donald Trump didn't put it quite this bluntly, but he signaled he's closing in on a life-or-death decision: Do we accept larger numbers of people dying or becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus pandemic as the price of staving off deeper economic disaster?

The Trump tweet came just before midnight Sunday, in caps: "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!" The 15-day period for the federally recommended shutdown measures expires March 30. U.S. coronavirus cases are still surging at a staggering rate, with more than 41,000 confirmed infections and deaths topping 500.

But Trump is rapidly losing patience with the medical professionals led by Dr. Anthony Fauci who repeatedly have made the case that the drastic actions are the only way to prevent a catastrophic loss of life and should extend into April, The Associated Press reported. "Our country wasn't built to be shut down," the president said at Monday's briefing.

Trump didn’t offer an exact timeline for easing up, but he said it will be a “lot sooner than three or four months.” As for what Fauci, the top federal epidemiologist, thinks now, Trump said he "doesn't not agree … He understands there’s a tremendous cost to our country.”

Some in the president's inner circle are advocating for the guidelines on social distancing to be scaled back significantly, according to ABC News. A senior official pointed out that an overwhelming majority of people who get COVID-19 will recover fully and that most deaths are among the elderly and those with underlying conditions. As Trump's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, put it to Fox News: "We’re going to have to make some difficult trade-offs."

More Republicans and conservative commentators are pushing Trump in that direction, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) disagreed and cautioned in a Washington Post interview that letting up on restrictions — with the worst of the pandemic yet to come and hospitals pushed to the breaking point — may be no cure for the economy.

“It would be a major mistake to suggest any change of course when it comes to containment,” said Graham, a close Trump ally who recently spent days in self-quarantine until his own infection scare passed. “I just spoke with Dr. Fauci — he believes that, if anything, we should be more aggressive and do more … You can’t have a functioning economy if you have hospitals overflowing. People aren’t going to go to work like that.”

New York state of siege

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also said Monday that the state needs to plan how to move forward economically, though he set no date for considering any easing of policies.

"I am very proud of the measures we’ve taken to address this public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “But I’m also very aware you cannot — it is unsustainable to run this state or run this country with the economy closed down.” The governor added, "I think there is a line, a dot where those two lines cross."

It may be harder to lower the guard soon in New York than anywhere else. The state's predicament is the worst in the nation, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases.

At Monday's briefing with Trump, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said 28% of coronavirus tests in New York City and on Long Island have come back positive, compared with less than 8% in the rest of the country. "So to all of my friends and colleagues in New York, this is the group that needs to absolutely social distance and self-isolate at this time," she said.

For more on how coronavirus has the region nearly paralyzed, see Monday's roundup by Newsday's reporters. For Newsday's complete coronavirus coverage, click here.

Rescue package still cooking

Tensions flared Monday in the Senate as Republicans and Democrats wrestled over the details of a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue package.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aggressively pushed for a deal by Monday. “It’s time to get with the program, time to pass historic relief,” he said angrily. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a seemingly endless series of meetings with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Democrats said they were clearing obstacles to a deal.

Trump said at his briefing in the early evening: “I got a call a little while ago, I guess they are getting closer. It should go quickly and it must go quickly. It’s not really a choice. They don’t have a choice. They have to make a deal.”

Janison: Rally distancing

Coronavirus has deprived Trump of a favorite forum: his rallies. So he's bringing his rally stylings to the White House virus briefings, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Trump must make do with more muted forums for the usual preening, boasting and snark. He does it now from an official podium — under the grand aegis of declaring himself a "wartime leader."

Some lines from Sunday: There will be a "great victory" over the pandemic, "much sooner than originally expected." And “look at the approval numbers on the job we’re doing." And "[Sen. Mitt] Romney's in isolation? Gee, that's too bad."

These performances are still appreciably about him and his image. What's missing is the raucous cheering crowds.

Trump calls out anti-Asian racism

With Asian Americans contending with growing racism in the form of verbal and physical attacks from bigots who want to blame them for coronavirus, Trump tweeted: Stop.

"It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!"

He then repeated the admonition at Monday's briefing.

This time, he didn't call it the "Chinese virus," which some Asian American groups have called an incitement to hate.

The Teflon epidemiologist

In a round of recent interviews, Fauci made his frequent exasperation clear over Trump's hyping of potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the journal Science in an interview published Sunday: "I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time."

Trump indicated he has no problem with Fauci, who wasn't at Monday's briefing. 

“I was just with him,” Trump said, explaining that Fauci was “at a task force meeting." The president added, "He's a good man. I like Dr. Fauci a lot," and "he'll be back up very soon."

Unconventional problems 

Planners for the Democratic National Convention are looking at “contingency options” in case the mid-July gathering in Milwaukee can’t take place because of coronavirus, The New York Times reported.

Whether it will be OK to let people crowd into an arena isn't the only issue. Among the complicating factors is the uncertain nature of the professional basketball season: The arena hosting the convention is home to the Milwaukee Bucks, a top team likely to play deep into the NBA playoffs if the league’s season were to restart.

Another question is how the party’s delegates will be selected. Delegates in most states are elected to the national convention from state conventions, but many state conventions, scheduled for late spring and early summer, also are being postponed.

Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez takes a broader look at how the pandemic has altered the political calendar and landscape.

What else is happening:

  • Attorney General William Barr came to Monday's briefing to detail an executive order by Trump to stop price-gouging and the hoarding of medical supplies. "If you have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about," Barr said, but if masks are being hoarded in a warehouse, a "knock on the door" is coming.
  • Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic front-runner, accused Trump of giving false information about the pandemic, not taking it seriously enough and not moving faster. Biden spoke in a webcast from a newly installed TV studio in his Delaware home. “Trump keeps saying that he’s a wartime president. Well, start to act like one,” he said.
  • A Monmouth University poll finds that the public supports Trump's handling of the pandemic by 50% to 45%. There were higher marks for governors and federal health officials and lower marks for Congress and the media.
  • An AP Fact Check determined Trump falsely is asserting how quickly automakers including GM, Ford and Tesla can manufacture ventilators to help fill an acute U.S. shortage of the medical equipment for COVID-19 patients.
  • Trump said Monday the Oct. 1 deadline for travelers to obtain REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses in order to board domestic and international flights will be moved because of the pandemic, Newsday's Michael Gormley reports. The president made his announcement hours after Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) introduced a bill to delay the program by a year.
  • Trump and members of his coronavirus task force will participate in a two-hour virtual town hall on Fox News Channel starting at noon Tuesday, the network said. As of late Monday, no Tuesday daily briefing was scheduled.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced Monday that her husband has tested positive for coronavirus and is hospitalized in Virginia. “He now has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not a ventilator,” she said. “I love my husband so very much and not being able to be there at the hospital by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease.”
  • Laid-off campaign workers for Mike Bloomberg have filed class-action lawsuits, charging he reneged on a promise that they would be kept on the payroll through November.
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