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Donald Trump participates in a coronavirus disease town hall on America returning to work, held at Lincoln Memorial in Washington on May 3.

Donald Trump participates in a coronavirus disease town hall on America returning to work, held at Lincoln Memorial in Washington on May 3. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Without mentioning Donald Trump or his administration, New York governor Andrew Cuomo moments ago dismissed as “an absurd argument” the notion of weighing an increased death toll from the coronavirus against reopening the US economy.

“People are talking about, we should reopen the economy it’s more important than public health…and that’s the underlying argument and discussion that you hear going on right now…to say we either have to have a strong economy or protect public health, no, that’s a false choice,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing earlier.

He added: “It’s not one or the other, it’s both. We have to reopen, get the economy running and we have to protect public health. This is not a situation where you can go to the American people and say ‘how many lives are you willing to lose to reopen the economy?’…you start to hear what, to me, are these absurd arguments ‘if we reopen people will die but people were going to die anyway’…that is not a justification in my mind.”

This week, the White House pivoted sharply away from emphasizing its own federal guidelines on societal restrictions to focus on reviving America’s devastated economy, fueling anxiety that the president and his top political team have made a political calculation to put his economy-driven re-election chances ahead of saving maximum US lives.

While touring a face mask production line in Arizona on Tuesday, Trump said: “I’m not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.” This followed his own top public health expert, Anthony Fauci warned against premature reopening of the US while asking in an interview: “How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?”

Cuomo said that with the current stay-at-home order in New York state set to expire on May 15, he is looking at the extent and pace of reopening plans for different regions of the large state.

He said that although the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in New York is not coming down as fast as was hoped, they are declining steadily and it showed that measures such as social distancing, wearing masks and gloves and hand-cleansing were working.

“In New York the numbers are coming down dramatically, in the rest of the US it’s going up. When [what we are doing] is working, stay the course. We are going through hell, but it’s working so we are going to keep going,” he said.

More than 40 other states are planning to begin reopening in the coming days even though the coronavirus numbers in many are still going up.

Cuomo also praised former presidents Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D Roosevelt for what he characterized as their public emphasis on facts and data.

He quoted Lincoln as saying: “Let them know the truth and the country is safe”, a clear dig at the president’s frequently misleading spinning of facts in his public addresses on the coronavirus and his latest penchant for comparing himself to Lincoln – and hosting a town hall-style event last Sunday from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.