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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread, as he aims to begin to ease nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to the nation's governors, Trump said the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make "decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place." States and municipalities would still retain authority to set whatever restrictions deem necessary.

He has been trying for days to determine how to contain the economic fallout of the guidelines issued by his administration as well as local leaders to slow the tide of infections.

"Every day that we stay out it gets harder to bring it back very quickly," Trump said during a Thursday press conference.

Last week Trump unveiled a 15-day program advising against large gatherings and calling for many Americans to remain at home. The guidelines, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are voluntary, but many state and local leaders have issued mandatory restrictions in line with, or even tighter than, those issued by the CDC.

The White House was still developing the new guidelines and gathering the data to back them up, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coordinator for coronavirus response, told reporters Thurday.

"What we are trying to do is utilize a very laser-focused approach rather than an generic horizontal approach," she said.

Birx acknowledged concerns that people could simply move between areas with different infection risks — and potentially different restrictions on movement and gathering amid the outbreak.

"Part of this will be the need to have highly responsible behavior between counties," she said, saying the administration would provide additional guidance to states next week, once the new plan is finalized.

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