President Donald Trump on Sunday extended his stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April, dropping a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April after a top medical adviser said more than 100,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus outbreak.
The reversal by Trump, which he said would be disclosed in greater detail on Tuesday, came as the U.S. death toll topped 2,460 from the respiratory disease, according to a Reuters tally, with more than 141,000 cases, the most of any country in the world.
"The peak, the highest point of death rate, is likely to hit in two weeks," Trump told a coronavirus briefing in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by top advisers and business leaders, "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won."
He told Americans: "The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end."
Earlier on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that the pandemic could ultimately kill between 100,000 and 200,000 people in the United States if mitigation was not successful.
Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States, according to the CDC here
Fauci softened his dire predictions at the Rose Garden briefing, saying they were based on models that were run to show the worst-case scenario if Americans did not follow stay-at-home directives.
"We feel the mitigation we are doing right now is having an effect," Fauci said. "The decision to extend this mitigation process until the end of April is a wise and prudent decision."
Trump's surprise suggestion that he might order the reopening of the economy by Easter had been greeted with sharp and immediate criticism from state governors still grappling with rising numbers of patients and health systems stretched thin.
The governors of at least 21 states, representing more than half the U.S. population of 330 million, have closed "non-essential businesses" and told residents to stay home.
Asked during the briefing if floating the idea of lifting restrictions by mid-April had been a mistake, Trump called it "just an aspiration" and said he now believed the country could be on its way to economic recovery by June 1.