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COVID-19: US state leaders lambast 'conflicting messages' from White House

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President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, April 19, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, April 19, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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The verbal sparring between US President Donald Trump and state leaders ratcheted up a notch over the weekend as Trump increased pressure to lift confinement measures.

Washington state's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, accused Trump of encouraging insubordination and illegal activity by goading protesters who flouted shelter-in-place rules.

"To have an American president to encourage people to violate the law, I can't remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing," Inslee told ABC's This Week. He said it was "dangerous because it can inspire people to ignore things that actually can save their lives.''

Protesters worrying about their livelihoods and bucking infringements on their freedom took to the streets in some places.

Trump supporters in several states ignored social distancing and stay-at-home orders, gathering to demand that governors lift controls on public activity. The largest protest drew thousands to Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday, and others have featured hundreds each in several states. The president has invoked their rallying cry, calling on several states with Democratic governors to "LIBERATE".

The global health crisis is taking a nasty political turn with tensions worsening between governments locked down to keep the coronavirus at bay and people yearning to restart stalled economies and forestall fears of a depression.

The Trump administration says parts of the country are ready to begin a gradual return to normalcy. Yet some state leaders say their response to the pandemic is hindered by a woefully inadequate federal response.

Vice President Mike Pence sidestepped questions on Sunday about why Trump seemed to be encouraging efforts to undermine preventive measures his own government has promoted. Inslee nonetheless likened Trump's response to "schizophrenia.'' Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said "it just doesn't make any sense."

"We're sending completely conflicting messages out to the governors and to the people, as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations," Hogan said on CNN's State of the Union."

With the arc of infection different in every nation and across US states, proposals have differed for coping with the virus that has killed more than 165,000.

The death toll in the US climbed past 41,000 with more than 746,000 confirmed infections, while the global case count has passed 2.38 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University of national health reports. The European Center for Disease Control said Europe now has more than one million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths.

Trump is pushing to begin easing the lockdown in some states even before his own May 1 deadline, a plan that health experts and governors from both parties say will require a dramatic increase in testing capacity nationwide. But Pence insisted in television interviews that "the country has sufficient testing today" for states to begin reopening their economies as part of the initial phases of guidelines that the White House released last week.

The Trump administration has repeatedly blamed state leaders for delays, but governors from both parties have been begging the federal government for help securing in-demand testing supplies such as swabs and chemicals known as reagents. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio made a direct appeal to Washington: "We really need help ... to take our capacity up," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said his state can't begin lifting restrictions until it is able to test more people daily. "Right now, we're not even close as a nation, let alone as a state, to where we should be on testing," he said.

Trump pushed back in a tweet before his scheduled Sunday evening briefing at the White House. "I am right on testing. Governors must be able to step up and get the job done. We will be with you ALL THE WAY!" he wrote.

Economic concerns that have increasingly collided with measures to protect public health are now popping up throughout the U.S.

Business leaders in Louisiana have slammed New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell for imposing restrictions that they say have unfairly shuttered economic activity outside the city. A full-page ad in Baton Rouge's The Advocate newspaper on Sunday urged an easing of lockdowns, even as the New Orleans Times-Picayune featured nearly nine pages of obituaries in a city hard-hit by the virus.

States including Texas and Indiana have announced plans to allow some retail and other activity to resume and some restrictions were either lifted or set to be on beaches in Florida and South Carolina. But in New York, where the daily coronavirus death toll hit its lowest point in more than two weeks on Sunday, officials warn that New York City and the rest of the hard-hit state aren't ready to ease shutdowns of schools, businesses and gatherings.