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Americans Told to Continue Social Distancing Through April

The extension is aimed at slowing the virus's spread and taking pressure off the health care system

Cute girl talking with her grandmother within video chat on laptop, digital conversation, life in quarantine time, self-isolation

Maria Symchych-Navrotska/Getty Images

En español | The White House has extended its social distancing guidelines, urging Americans — and especially older adults — to stay home as much as possible and to avoid groups of more than 10 people through the end of April.

President Donald Trump made the announcement in the Rose Garden on Sunday, the eve of what officials had initially hoped would be the end of a 15-day plan aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. But with the number of Americans infected by the virus topping 100,000 and experts warning that thousands more could die from the illness it causes, Trump backed off his hopes of opening the country up to business again by Easter.

"Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all,” he said at Sunday's news conference.

Normal life grinds to a halt

Since the White House first issued social distancing guidelines on March 16, normal life has come to an abrupt end in many communities across the country. Because the virus is thought to be transmitted through respiratory droplets passing between people who are in close contact, crowded public spaces, such as schools, shopping centers and museums, have closed down temporarily. Nursing homes have banned all visitors, and sports teams have postponed their seasons — all in an effort to slow the virus's spread.

They key to social distancing, experts say, is to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by the number of people who get severely sick from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

"You can imagine if 100 people were going to get sick over 100 days, you would have a certain kind of pressure on the health care system,” Anne Schuchat, M.D., principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explained in an earlier interview with AARP. “But if 100 people get sick all in the same day, it's a different kind of pressure.” If society is able to slow the spread of the virus, health care workers can “take better care of every individual person,” she added.

The extended White House guidelines push for all Americans — including young and healthy people, who are less likely to get severely ill from the coronavirus if infected — to work from home, if possible, and to avoid eating in bars and restaurants.

Older adults: Stay home; stay away from others

Older adults and those with underlying health conditions — the populations at highest risk for severe illness from the coronavirus — are encouraged to stay home as much as possible and to stay away from other people. Health experts also stress the importance of washing hands often and wiping down frequently touched surfaces, to avoid getting sick.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, urged Americans on Sunday not to get “complacent” if their community seems relatively unaffected by the virus.

"So we shouldn't take any solace when we see low levels in different states, different cities, different areas, because they're very vulnerable to an explosion,” Fauci said. “This can happen anywhere, and that's really one of the issues that we're concerned about and why we were so reluctant to pull back at a time when we need to put our foot on the gas, as opposed to on the brake.”