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Trump to announce council for "opening our country" next week

Trump eyes reopening economy despite health warnings

Highlights from Friday's briefing:

  • President Trump says he's creating a council of business people and doctors to reopen the economy
  • Mr. Trump says determining when to reopen the country is the biggest decision he's ever made
  • Pence encourages churches to stick to guidelines and meet virtually this Easter

President Trump said Friday that he'll be announcing a new council next week devoted to "opening our country" as the coronavirus lockdown continues. The panel, separate from the Coronavirus Task Force, will be comprised of doctors and business leaders, the president said. The announcement will likely come Tuesday. 

The president said the task force will be broader than just an economic one. He also confirmed that some mayors and governors could be in the group. 

"Everybody would like to be on that council, it's a very important council," he said. 

The president's current guidelines for social distancing and mitigation go through April 30, and he's weighing what to do beyond then. When and how to reopen the nation's economy, Mr. Trump said, is the biggest decision he's had to make. 

"I'm going to have to make a decision, and I hope to God it's the right decision. But I would say without question it's the biggest decision I've ever had to make," he said. 

CBS News had confirmed prior to Mr. Trump's announcement that the White House was looking at building up some form of task force to restart the economy, as the nation looks at what might be the worst unemployment numbers since the Great Depression. More than 16 million Americans have applied for jobless claims in the last several weeks since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses across the country. 

For the first time, the U.S. is showing signs that the curve of coronavirus cases is beginning to level off, members of the Coronavirus Task Force said during Friday's White House briefing. But that doesn't mean the U.S. has necessarily peaked, and it doesn't mean it's time to ease restrictions, they said. 

"It's really about the encouraging signs that we see, but as encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak," Dr. Deborah Birx told reporters Friday. "And so, every day, we need to continue to do what we did yesterday and the week before and the week before that."

"This is not the time to feel that, since we have made such important advance in the sense of success of the mitigation, that we need to be pulling back at all," Dr. Anthony Fauci said. With Easter this weekend, Vice President Mike Pence urged churches to continue to follow the administration's guidelines, which discourage gatherings of more than 10 people.  

"Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday and there's hope," the vice president said. 

As of 3 p.m. Friday, Johns Hopkins University reported 18,000 deaths in the U.S., and a total of 486,490 confirmed cases nationwide. 

CBS News poll out Friday revealed most Americans continue to think the battle against the pandemic is going badly. Americans appear to have decreasing in confidence in Mr. Trump's handling of the outbreak response, as the president is seen doing a good job by 47%, down four points from 51% last week and 53% the prior week.

Another CBS News poll released Friday showed Americans are very concerned about the economic impact of the virus. Over 16 million people have filed unemployment claims over the past three weeks due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence said during Thursday's coronavirus task force briefing that eligible Americans with direct deposit set up with the IRS will begin to see their checks dispensed under the CARES Act at the end of next week. The average family of four, Pence said, can expect to see roughly $3,400.

Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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