Less than two weeks after the World Health Organization, US President Donald Trump says he hopes to restart the nation's economy by April 12. Countless schools and businesses have temporarily closed in several states and tens of millions of Americans have been asked to stay home in an attempt to slow the spread of .
During a virtual town hall meeting on Fox News on Tuesday, Trump said he wants to see the country "opened up and just raring to go by Easter," which is just less than three weeks away. "We have to get back to work," Trump said.
Trump said he's worried that the current approach to stopping the spread of the pandemic could case the US to "lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression."
The president's timeline comes as WHO officials reportedly said they're seeing a "very large acceleration in cases in the US," giving the Unites States the potential to become the new epicenter of the pandemic. On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the rate of infections in his state is doubling about every three days.
"We're not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own," Cuomo said.
As of Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported more than 44,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US. Though Trump appears optimistic that businesses can reopen in the US soon, some experts have expressed concern.
"I think it is an exceptionally bad idea," said Tara C. Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University. "We have not even been doing social distancing long enough to start seeing the results." Smith worries that we may start to see a decrease in cases a few weeks from now and that "'opening back up' by Easter might ... bring people back together over the holiday and restart those chains of transmission ... bringing us back to where we are today."
Smith said she agrees with the earlier suggestion of White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci that eight weeks is more appropriate.
Thomas Birkland, a professor of public policy at North Carolina State University, also expressed concern. "We don't appear to be likely to have the ability to test, isolate and treat a sufficient number of people by April 12 -- Easter Sunday -- to ensure that 'opening up' wouldn't just lead to more community spread of the virus," he said.
Economist Michael Walden, a colleague of Birkland's at North Carolina State, added that the next two to three weeks will be "crucial for understanding the virus and plotting its course."
"The optimistic view is that hopefully in three weeks, new cases would be on the decline and 'hotspots' in the nation could be identified and effectively isolated," Walden said. He explained that under this scenario, much of the country could go back to work, boosting production and employment. Walden said that the pessimistic scenario, on the other hand, is that people return to work before the virus is contained, leading to more infections and deaths.
On Monday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested on Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight that he and other senior citizens might be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for life to return to normal.
"I'm not living in fear of COVID-19. What I'm living in fear of is what's happening to this country," said Patrick. "No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival, in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that's the exchange, I'm all in."
During a Facebook Live session shortly before Trump's comment on Fox News, Chris Anderson of TED asked Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates about the notion of starting everything back up in a few weeks.
"There really is no middle ground," Gates said. "It's very tough to say to people, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner."
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.