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Trump extends virus guidelines, braces US for big toll

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bracing the nation for a grim death toll, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the voluntary national shutdown for a month, bowing to public-health experts who told him the coronavirus pandemic could claim over 100,000 lives in the U.S., perhaps significantly more, if not enough is done to fight it.

It was a stark shift in tone by the president, who only days ago mused about the country reopening in a few weeks. From the Rose Garden, he said his Easter revival hopes had only been “aspirational.”

The initial 15-day period of social distancing urged by the federal government expires Monday and Trump had expressed interest in relaxing the national guidelines at least in parts of the country less afflicted by the pandemic. But instead he decided to extend them through April 30, a tacit acknowledgment he’d been too optimistic. Many states and local governments have stiffer controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

Trump’s impulse to restore normalcy met a sober reality check Sunday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who said the U.S. could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the pandemic. Trump’s decision to extend the guidelines reflected a recognition that the struggle will take place over the longer haul and the risk of deaths spiraling into the hundreds of thousands is real.

“I want our life back again,” the president told reporters in the Rose Garden.

Trump, who has largely avoided talk of potential death and infection rates, cited projection models that said potentially 2.2 million people or more could have died had the country not put social distancing measures in place. And he said the country would be doing well if it “can hold” the number of deaths “down to 100,000.”

“It’s a horrible number,” Trump said, but added: “We all together have done a very good job.”

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