WHITE HOUSE - "We're not going to let the cure be worse than the problem," U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday, signaling his desire to soon end the social distancing in place intended to stem the upward trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Our country wasn't meant to be shut down," he added.
Trump, at the daily media briefing by the White House coronavirus task force, said a large team is working on what the next steps will be in order to end the virtual shutdown of the world's largest economy.
At a certain point, the country needs "to get open, get moving," Trump stated, making it clear he is weighing the risk from the COVID-19 pandemic against the economic damage being done to the country from the shutdown of most businesses.
Deaths as a result of an extended economic crisis could exceed those caused by the virus in the United States, according to the president who stated that the mortality rate for the coronavirus is less than 1% — much lower than had been anticipated.
"America will again and soon be open for business," said Trump, explaining it will not be the three-to-four-month timeframe predicted by some who warn the dire threat from the virus will not recede quickly.
The physicians, if they had their way, would "shut down the entire world," the president asserted.
Last Monday, Trump helped introduce a 15-day plan from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to try to stem the rise of coronavirus cases by encouraging most people to stay home. The campaign is scheduled to end March 31, but many expect it to be extended.
Trump said governors will "have a lot of leeway if we open up."
Speaking on CNBC on Monday, White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged that some inside the White House are also questioning whether a widespread shutdown of economic activity ultimately does more harm than good.
The president, who is known to take cues from conservative commentators on television and radio, is likely to be receptive to that sort of questioning.
"You know that famous phrase, 'The cure is worse than the disease?'" Steve Hilton asked on his Fox News television program on Sunday night. "That is exactly the territory we are hurtling towards."
Within hours, that phrase was being used by the president.
The executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University's school of medicine, Dr. Robert Murphy, told VOA he hopes social distancing recommendations will not be relaxed prematurely out of concern for the U.S. economy.
"I am petrified. Hopefully the states will ignore this directive," he said.
Such action would be a very sad way to test Darwinian Law, added Murphy, a professor of medicine and biomedical engineering.
Several U.S. states announced new restrictions Monday, boosting the number of people under stay-at-home orders to about one-third of the population.
Surveys have found, in general, Republicans — compared to Democrats — taking the threat from the pandemic less seriously and being more inclined to believe the media are hyping the coronavirus outbreak.
"Some of this is already happening, obviously, but it seems like very soon, social distancing is going to be treated by many primarily as a political act — a way of signaling which 'side' you're on," tweeted McKay Coppins, staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Wilderness, a book about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
A Republican ally of the president, Senator Lindsey Graham, warned against such a trend, in a tweet on Monday, calling for decisions to be made based on health care professionals' advice, rather than listening to political punditry.
Another ally of Trump, his former White House chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, does not believe, however, the federal government has gone far enough to try to flatten the curve of the trajectory of coronavirus cases in the country.
"We're going to have to take the pain up-front. We're going to have to shut it all down," he said on Fox News on Sunday. "Drop the hammer today on the virus."
Social distancing and staying at home are the best defensive measures to conquer the pandemic caused by a virus for which there is no vaccine, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasized on Monday.
"There is a discussion and a delicate balance about what's the overall impact of shutting everything down completely for an indefinite period of time," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told Science magazine. "If you knock down the economy completely and disrupt infrastructure, you may be causing health issues, unintended consequences, for people who need to be able to get to places and can't. You do the best you can."
There has to be a plan for the pivot back to economic functionality, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
"This can go for several months. We all now have to confront that this is a new reality," Cuomo, whose state has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases among all the 50 states, said at a briefing.
The governor says his staff is working on a plan that would allow younger people or others less susceptible to infection to return to work at some point, but for now the restrictive measures on business closures and a ban on groups of people congregating will remain in place.
"This week, it's going to get bad," the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, said on NBC's Today program early Monday. "We really, really need everyone to stay at home."
The United States has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases of any country after China and Italy, with at least 41,000 people confirmed to have been infected and about 500 dead.