‘Passing the buck’: Cuomo, Trump exchange barbs over coronavirus testing

The governors of Michigan, Florida and other states outlined tentative steps on Friday to reopen their economies, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled guidelines for a phased lifting of restrictions for stopping the coronavirus pandemic. New York’s governor, however, said that it was vital for testing to be ramped up before any discussion of reopening the economy could occur.

The Republican Trump, seeking a second term in a Nov. 3 election against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, on Thursday laid out new staggered, three-stage guidelines for U.S. states meant to revive the economy.

Democrats such as Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump’s plan.

The guidance “does nothing to make up for the president’s failure to listen to the scientists and produce and distribute national rapid testing,” Pelosi said.

Sweeping stay-at-home orders in 42 U.S. states to combat the novel coronavirus have shuttered businesses, disrupted lives and decimated the economy, and some protesters have begun taking to the streets to urge governors to rethink the restrictions.

With the onus on governors, some believe Trump is trying to give himself political cover if anything fails. He played down the seriousness of the threat posed by the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.

Up to the states to test, Trump says

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday that he needed federal help to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus and to reopen his economy, and criticized the White House, accusing Trump of bailing on a comprehensive testing strategy because it was too difficult.

“Is there any funding so I can do these things that you want us to do? No,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “That is passing the buck without passing the bucks.”

Trump lashed out at Cuomo in a series of tweets.

“The States have to step up their TESTING!” he said.

Advised by reporters of the tweets, the governor responded: “If he’s sitting home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work.”

WATCH | Three phases to U.S. federal reopening guidelines:

U.S. President Donald Trump announced federal guidelines on Thursday for some states described as being in “good shape” to start easing up on shutdown measures and reopening economies. 4:46

Trump’s plan is a set of recommendations for state governors, some of whom Trump has clashed with during the coronavirus crisis as several have described a fraught process of trying to obtain needed medical supplies from private suppliers without a command-and-control operation emanating from the federal government. 

The United States has reported more coronavirus infections than any other country, with over 679,000 cases and at least 34,000 deaths. The infections and casualties are spread unevenly across the country, with more densely populated places such as New York and New Jersey suffering the most.

New York statewide reported 630 new deaths in the most recent 24-hour period, Cuomo said on Friday.

New York and six other Northeastern states that have formed a joint task force due to their close links on trade and transportation on Thursday extended coronavirus stay-at-home orders to May 15.

Also on Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cancelled permitted city events through May, extending the cancellation by a month. He said events for June were under review and that the city has to set a “high bar” for restarting large group events.

Michigan hopes numbers are levelling off

Michigan, a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016, has faced one of the fastest growing infection rates, but residents have pressed to reopen the state’s economy, some even taking to the streets in protest.

“I am hopeful that come May 1 we will make some steps forward, and as we proceed, if that goes well and we continue to see progress, that we then go into a second phase,” Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on Friday, referring to continued decrease in hospitalizations from the virus.

As of Thursday, Michigan had more than 29,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 2,100 deaths, though Whitmer said the number of new cases was showing signs of levelling off.

WATCH | Will Trump’s attempts to deflect blame pay off?

Tensions with China seem likely to escalate in this U.S. election year, as President Donald Trump drops hints that bashing Beijing will be a central campaign theme. 4:50

Michigan has joined with Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in a partnership announced Thursday to work together on restarting the economies in their states. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said his state also hoped to start to reopen on May 1.

‘Easing the brakes’

In Florida, one of the last of the major states to shut down, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis talked about reopening but did not give a timeline on lifting stay-home orders.

“You’re not going to have large gatherings out there. You’ve just got to do it in a way that is going to have low risk,” he said at a briefing.

DeSantis said that it was up to local officials to open parks and beaches. The city of Jacksonville, Fla., will allow beaches and parks to reopen with some restrictions, the city’s mayor said on Twitter.

Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said he would extend by a week a stay-at-home order that was set to expire on Monday while easing some restrictions early next week.

Bothell Fire Department Deputy Chief Butch Noble holds a sign for health-care workers on Thursday in Kirkland, Wash., as first responders gather to applaud during a shift change at the Evergreen Health Medical Center, which saw the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Beaches and lakes can reopen on Monday for fishing and relaxing, while non-essential businesses can sell products for drive-thru pick-up or delivery, he said.

“We are easing the brakes on ‘non-essential’ businesses,” Reeves said. “I wanted to announce that we can all ease up and reopen today, but we can’t. We are still in the eye of the storm.”

Trump pointed to different rates of infection across the country at the White House on Thursday.

“You have very different states. If you look at Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, that’s a lot different than New York, a lot different than New Jersey,” he said.

Rural Montana has reported 415 cases and seven deaths, and Wyoming 296 cases and 2 deaths, while New York state has 14,776 casualties, nearly half the national total.

But health officials have warned that confirmed cases can be a misleading number depending on the availability of tests, while it is also a lagging indicator of actual transmission in a community.

The extraordinary measures to control the novel coronavirus outbreak have battered the U.S. economy as a record 22 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits over the past month, almost wiping out all the job gains since the Great Recession.

Read more at CBC.ca