The White House has announced new guidelines for reopening the country, outlining a phased approach for states with strong testing abilities and declining coronavirus cases to reopen.

“To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy,” President Donald Trump said Thursday at his daily coronavirus briefing.

Trump outlined his plans, which he has called “Opening Up America Again,” to lift social distancing guidelines in areas with low transmissions of the virus, but keeping the restrictions in place for harder-hit locations.

“Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states,” he said. “If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that.”

Border restrictions will remain in place, he said.

Places with declining infections and substantial testing would undergo a three-phase approach for gradually reopening businesses and schools, with each phase lasting 14 days. The guidelines can be implemented on a state or county basis.

In order to move into the first phase of reopening, states must have a decline of influenza-like illness and coronavirus cases for 14 days, and the percent of positive tests reported must also go down, said Dr. Deborah Birx, leader of the federal coronavirus task force. Hospitals must also be able to treat all patients while conducting robust testing.

Phase One

  • Vulnerable populations must remain sheltered in place.
  • Social distancing remains in place, with no gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Schools and non-essential businesses remain closed, and telework is encouraged.
  • Visitors are prohibited at senior facilities and hospitals.
  • Gyms can open under strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
  • Large venues (movie theaters, arenas, places of worship) can operate under strict physical guidelines.
  • Bars remain closed.
  • Elective surgeries can resume on an out-patient basis.

Phase Two

  • Vulnerable populations remain sheltered in place.
  • Avoid settings of more than 50 people.
  • Non-essential travel can resume.
  • Telework remains encouraged.
  • Schools, daycares, and camps can reopen.
  • Visitors are still prohibited at senior facilities and hospitals.
  • Large venues operate under moderate physical distancing.
  • Bars can operate with diminished occupancy.
  • Elective surgeries can resume with in-patient and out-patient care.

Phase Three

  • Resume a "new normal” while maintaining good hygiene.
  • Large venues can operate under “limited physical distancing protocols.”

Phase three would remain in place until a vaccine is developed, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, another leader of the coronavirus task force. Fauci said that states and municipalities must continue to “satisfy that gating,” or the two-week period, to move onto the next phase.

Trump said states that have already satisfied the guidelines may move into phase two immediately if they choose.

“They will be able to go back [to reopening] literally tomorrow,” he said, adding that about 29 states are in “good shape.”

Fauci said that phase three would allow settings like sports arenas to reopen with large crowds.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.
Alex Brandon / AP
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

Since the beginning of the shutdowns, Trump has made his desire to reopen the economy clear, and said some states would open sooner than others depending on their case numbers. At the end of March, he said he wanted to see the country open by Easter, but after receiving guidance from health officials, the social distancing guidelines were extended through May 1.

The president took an authoritative stance Monday on reopening, saying the decision was up to him — not the governors — to decide when to reopen states, although this is false.

“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at Monday’s briefing. “And that’s the way it’s got to be.”

Some governors pushed back, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Well, seeing as we had the responsibility for closing the state down,” Wolf said. “I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”

Wolf and the governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island created a committee of public-health and economic-development officials to make regional reopening plans. On the west coast, governors of California, Washington, and Oregon formed a similar pact.