WASHINGTON/NEW YORK--The White House issued new U.S. coronavirus guidelines on Monday warning Americans to limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people and urging restaurants, bars and other public venues to close in states where local transmission of the virus exists.
But President Donald Trump refrained from ordering sweeping public quarantines or lockdowns for the time being, even as some state and local authorities imposed mandatory restrictions of their own on eateries, movie theaters and other places of leisure in a bid to contain the respiratory virus.
"We're recommending things," Trump told a White House news conference. "We haven't gone to that step yet" of ordering a lockdown. "That could happen, but we haven't gone there yet."
Trump also said a nationwide curfew was not under consideration at this point, and that postponements of primary elections, like those announced in Georgia and Louisiana, were generally unnecessary.
The number of known coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States paled in comparison with hot spots of the global pandemic, such as China, Italy or Iran. But the tally of confirmed U.S. cases has multiplied quickly over the past few weeks, surpassing 4,300 to date and prompting fears American hospitals might soon be overwhelmed, as Italian medical centers have been strained to the breaking point.
At least 80 people in the United States had died of the virus, as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University and public health agencies, with the hardest-hit state, Washington, accounting for the bulk of those fatalities, including six more announced on Monday.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said health officials were relying on members of the millennial generation - those in their 20s to 40s, and representing the largest living adult cohort - to alter their social behaviour for the good of the public. "Why do I think the millennials are the key? Because they're the ones that are out and about, and they're the most likely to be in social gatherings, and they're the most likely to be the least symptomatic," Birx told the briefing.
Release of the latest 15-day plan for slowing the spread of the virus came as state and local government officials pleaded with the Trump administration to mount a coordinated national response to the pandemic, as millions of workers and students were already hunkering down at home. Besides recommendations to avoid social gatherings and close bars, restaurants and other public places in states where community spread of the virus is evident, Birx said one of the most important measures was for people who are sick to stay home.
"If everybody in America does what we ask for over the next 15 days, we will see a dramatic difference," Birx said.