White House task force still weighing different ‘benchmarks’ for reopening

Coronavirus

Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma (L), US Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx (2R) listen as US President Donald Trump (C) speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 7, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — White House coronavirus task force officials are still weighing potential benchmarks that would lead to phased reopening of states but have yet to settle on specific targets, according to people familiar with the discussions.

In meetings of the task force over the weekend, discussions centered on how and when states could be advised to reopen certain businesses and allow larger gatherings. But officials haven’t yet settled on a specific set of criteria and some have argued that blanket recommendations might not work for every state.

For example, rural states or states with older populations may need a different set of criteria than more densely populated ones. And states where the virus has already peaked may also see a different set of benchmarks.

Officials said decisions on those benchmarks were still pending as task force members debate their merits.

As part of the discussions, officials have been closely poring through testing data from individual states to try and determine where more resources are needed. While President Donald Trump said last week that an ability to test every American isn’t a prerequisite for any reopening announcement, administration officials say monitoring and surveillance are key to any plan.

Task force officials, led by Drs. Deborah Birx and Brett Giroir, are working to determine which states are a priority for testing and working with governors and labs to scale up areas that have lagged behind.

Broadly, the benchmarks being eyed by the task force include a set time period where confirmed cases decrease and hospitals return to normal conditions. As part of the effort, officials have studied hospital bed capacity in individual states.

Some of the ongoing efforts are expected to overlap with the “Opening our Country Council” that Trump is preparing to announce on Tuesday. It’s not yet clear how the two panels will interact but one official said the reopening council would likely focus more on additional economic measures to stimulate the economy and less on public health.

While Trump claimed in a tweet Monday “it is the decision of the President” when to reopen states for business, officials concede that governors will ultimately decide when to reverse their stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. Those officials said that discussions in the task force have focused on what recommendations the federal government would offer to states on when reopening is advised.

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