STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today, the president tries again to set the terms of when states move toward a more normal life. So far this week, the president has said the decision was up to him, which it is not. Then he said he would authorize the governors to decide authorization they do not need. The governor of Illinois answered for many when he said science would decide his course, and he told NPR the president's view was, quote, "an advisory opinion by somebody." Today, the president will give his opinion, promising guidance in a call with governors.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You already know we'll be opening up states, some states much sooner than others, and we think some of the states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1, and I think that that will be a very exciting time indeed.
INSKEEP: Health officials and business leaders have insisted that people should not return to their jobs and stores until coronavirus testing and tracing is much more widespread. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us. Mara, good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So we know these are not and cannot be orders to the states. So what is it the president is putting out today?
LIASSON: These are guidelines. They're guidance to the states. As you said, the president has walked back his earlier claim that he had total authority over the states' plans. Now he says they'll have the latitude. They'll make their own decisions. He's no longer saying the governors can't do anything without the approval of the president, which is what he said the other day. Turns out the president is not a king. He just sometimes plays one on TV.
But what he's going to do today is tell the states, help them make decisions. Who - which businesses and institutions should open first? Should schools and daycare centers open first so parents can go back to work? What level of social distancing should be continued? Where should testing and temperature taking take place? Who should stay in quarantine? Maybe older people or people with underlying conditions.
You know, as business leaders and public health officials have said, this is not like flipping a switch. It's going to be gradual and incremental because people have to feel safe if they're going to go back to some modified version of business as usual.
INSKEEP: Knowing what the scientists tell us about what it will take for people to feel safe, why does the president persist on talking about early reopening dates, most recently saying states could open up before May 1, which is coming right up?
LIASSON: Well, the president says some states have not had a lot of illness. Some states weren't even shut down completely. There are a lot of the president's conservative allies who say that opening up fast is really crucial. They say there's a big difference between May 1 and June 1 because by June 1, they argue you'll have lost jobs and companies that will never come back.
That raises the question whether the president will criticize governors who don't want to open up by May 1, or will he hold back federal assistance as leverage? But CEOs say that the country has to open safely. The head of the AFL-CIO tells NPR that protections for workers have to be in place if they're going to be asked to go back to work.
INSKEEP: Although where do we stand on testing, given that any expert who has looked into this has made it clear that testing and tracing and then containing outbreaks of the virus is absolutely essential before people can safely return?
LIASSON: Yep. This is the big message from CEOs. You have to know who tests positive, who doesn't, so you can decide who still needs to quarantine themselves and who can go back to work. Otherwise, you're flying blind, and you have to keep the whole economy in a medically induced coma, which is what we've been doing.
The Democrats have legislation in Congress. They want $30 billion for widespread free testing. But the president has said it's up to the states to get testing. And when he was asked by our own Franco Ordoñez whether he agreed with public health officials that we need 750,000 tests today, he said, do we need that? No. Would it be nice to have it? Yes.
INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, hope to see you face-to-face again sometime.
LIASSON: Yes, me too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.