By ZEKE MILLER and MATT SEDENSKY
WASHINGTON (AP) — A day after laying out a roadmap for gradually reopening the economy, President Donald Trump urged his supporters to “LIBERATE” three states led by Democratic governors Friday, in effect encouraging protests against the stay-at-home restrictions aimed at stopping the coronavirus.
The president took to Twitter with the kind of rhetoric some of his supporters have used in demanding the lifting of the orders that have thrown millions of Americans out of work.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” Trump said in a tweet-storm in which he also lashed out at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for criticizing the federal response. Cuomo “should spend more time `doing’ and less time `complaining,’” the president said.
Responding to pleas from governors for help from Washington in ramping up testing for the virus, Trump put the burden back on them, tweeting: “The States have to step up their TESTING!”
Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses reopen quickly and claimed earlier this week that he possesses total authority over the matter, even though the lockdowns and other social-distancing measures have been imposed by state and local leaders, not Washington.
On Thursday, the president detailed a three-step set of guidelines for easing restrictions over a span of several weeks in places that have robust testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, assuring the nation’s governors: “You’re going to call your own shots.”
Governors of both parties Friday suggested they would be cautious in returning to normal, some of them warning that they can’t do it without help from Washington to expand testing.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has been critical of the government’s response to the crisis, said that she hopes to begin reopening parts of the state’s economy May 1, but that it would be done in “smart way” to avoid a second wave of infections.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican ally of Trump’s, endorsed the White House plan but made clear that he will listen to medical experts in deciding how to move forward. He said more testing is needed before any restrictions can be rolled back.
“I am not going to do something that I feel in my heart is the wrong thing that’s going to endanger our people,” he said.
Cuomo, whose state is the most lethal hot spot in the nation and is still seeing over 600 deaths a day, accused the government of “passing the buck without passing the bucks.”
“The federal government cannot wipe its hands of this and say, `Oh, the states are responsible for testing.’ We cannot do it. We cannot do it without federal help,” he said.
Worldwide, the outbreak has infected nearly 2.2 million people and killed over 145,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally based on figures supplied by government health authorities around the globe, though it has becoming increasingly clear that the true numbers are much higher.
The official death toll in the U.S. neared 34,000, with more than 670,000 confirmed infections.
The shutdowns have inflicted heavy damage on economies around the world. In the U.S., the crisis has cost at least 22 millions Americans their jobs, pushing the unemployment rate toward levels not seen since the Great Depression.
Many Americans, especially in rural areas and other parts of the country that have not seen major outbreaks, have urged governors to reopen their economies. Protesters have taken to the streets in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Michigan, where more than 3,000 turned out on Wednesday in what looked like one of the president’s rallies, with MAGA hats and Trump flags.
Protests continued Friday, including one outside the home of Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota and another in Idaho, where the governor is a Republican.
Public health experts have warned that an easing of the shutdowns must be accompanied by wider testing and tracing of infected people to keep the virus from coming back with a vengeance.
The clash between Trump and Cuomo was personal, with the president complaining he hasn’t heard the governor say thanks for the help he has received from Washington. Cuomo countered by saying: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, send a bouquet of flowers? `Thank you to the federal government for participating in a federal emergency.’”
Meanwhile, China, confirming long-held suspicions, acknowledged that the coronavirus death toll in the one-time epicenter city of Wuhan was nearly 50% higher than reported, amounting to more than 4,600.
In Italy, Spain, Britain, the United States and elsewhere, similar doubts emerged as governments revised their death tolls or openly questioned the accuracy of them.
Authorities say that almost everywhere, thousands have died with COVID-19 symptoms — many in nursing homes — without being tested for the virus, and have thus gone uncounted.
“We are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Barcelona University epidemiologist Antoni Trilla, who heads the Spanish government’s expert panel on the crisis.
In Italy, for example, where the official toll has climbed past 22,000, a government survey released Friday of about one-third of the country’s nursing homes found more than 6,000 residents have died since Feb. 1. It was unclear how many were a result of COVID-19.
In Britain, with an official count of about 14,600 dead, the country’s statistics agency said the actual number could be around 15% higher. Others think it will be far more.
The official death toll in New York City soared by more than half earlier this week when health authorities began including people who probably had COVID-19 but died without being tested. Nearly 3,800 deaths were added to the city’s count.
“There is a general feeling that the epidemiologists don’t have a clue of what’s going on, that experts know even less and that governments are concealing information, but I don’t think that’s true,” said Hermelinda Vanaclocha, an epidemiologist on Spain’s top virus advisory panel. “It’s simply not easy.”
Such figures can have a huge influence on governments’ actions, as medical staffs struggle to figure out how to cope with surges of sick people and officials make crucial decisions about where to devote resources and how to begin easing lockdowns to resuscitate their economies.
Sedensky reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press journalists from around the world contributed to this report.