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Mills And Trump Advise Different, Opposing Approaches To Public Health And Coronavirus Response

Robert F. Bukaty
AP File
Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at the State House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

As Maine Gov. Janet Mills takes additional measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, she and other governors are saying residents should brace for a long period of sacrifice to protect public health. But President Donald Trump has begun signaling a dramatically different approach, telling Americans Tuesday that he wants large sections of the economy reopened by mid-April.

When Mills announced additional restrictions on non-essential business operations on Tuesday, she framed her decision in stark, urgent terms: Mainers should stay away from one another to protect one another. And she says it's not going to be easy.

"The next 15 days are critical at flattening that curve so that Maine stays ahead of this thing as much as humanly possible," she says. "We're confronting an unprecedented challenge."

What Mainers Need To Know About The Coronavirus

Later Tuesday, the message from the White House was much different. Trump talked about seeing light at the end of the tunnel and a goal of reopening large swaths of the American economy by April 12.

"I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter. I think that would be a great thing for our country, and we're all working very hard to make that a reality," he says.

Trump's goal puts him on a collision course with health experts, including those within his own administration, who argue that resuming business as usual could worsen conditions and accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.

But it also potentially puts him at odds with governors like Mills, who has taken a measured approach to the outbreak by leading with recommendations for the closures of certain businesses before instituting mandates. Mills was largely dismissive of a scenario in which her orders would run counter to any of the president's plans.

"Whatever he says off the cuff is not — does not rise to the level of an order, a forecast or a prediction of substantive value," she says.

Mills also says it's premature to contemplate a time when Maine and other states are still instituting tight restrictions when Trump might seek to loosen them.

American governors do have sweeping powers to resist federal mandates and orders should that scenario ever arrive.

Nevertheless, any dispute over conflicting orders to close or reopen businesses and allow large gatherings again could be defined less by legal wrangling between states and the federal government, and more by public opinion. Recent polling shows that Republicans approve of the president's handling of the outbreak, while Democrats remain deeply distrustful.