US President Donald Trump has urged supporters to “LIBERATE” three states led by Democratic governors, stoking protests against stay-at-home restrictions.
Some states under Republican leadership have edged toward easing up the mandates aimed at stopping the coronavirus.
A day after laying out a road map to gradually reopen the crippled economy, Mr Trump tweeted the kind of rhetoric some of his supporters have used to demand the lifting of the orders that have thrown millions of Americans out of work.
Mr Trump’s support has emboldened protesters in several US states, who have taken to the streets opposing lockdown restrictions.
The protesters say the severe economic restrictions are hurting people.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” he said in a tweet-storm in which he also lashed out at New York governor Andrew Cuomo for criticising the federal response.
Mr Cuomo “should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining,”‘ the president said.
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Responding to pleas from governors for help from Washington in ramping up testing for the virus, Mr Trump put the burden back on them: “The States have to step up their TESTING!”
Mr Trump claimed on Friday (local time) that “very partisan voices” had spread “false and misleading information” about the nation’s testing capacity. But he said “we’ll help New York and all of the other states get even better on their testing.”
At the same time, at least two states took their first steps toward easing the restrictions.
In Florida, Republican governor Ron DeSantis said municipalities could reopen beaches and parks if they could do so safely. In Texas, Republican governor Greg Abbott said stores could begin selling curbside, non-essential surgery could resume and state parks could reopen.
Sensitive about persistent questions about the capacity for testing, Mr Trump had his health team lead an extensive briefing Friday outlining that adequate capacity exists to get states through the first phase of the guidelines for how they should reopen.
Mr Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see businesses reopen quickly and claimed earlier this week that he had total authority over the matter, even though the lockdowns and other social-distancing measures have been imposed by state and local leaders, not Washington.
“We may be opening but we’re putting safety first,” Mr Trump said.
On Thursday, he outlined 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.”
But governors of both parties suggested Friday that they would be cautious in returning to normal, with some warning that they can’t do it without help from Washington to expand testing.
“The federal government cannot wipe its hands of this and say, ‘Oh, the states are responsible for testing,'” said Mr Cuomo, a Democrat.
“We cannot do it without federal help.”
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 toll.