Attorney General William Barr Wednesday called the restrictions in effect in many states to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus "draconian" and said they should be revisited next month.
Asked by Fox News host Laura Ingraham about the balance between religious freedoms and the need to protect people from the coronavirus with restrictions like stay-at-home orders, Barr said the federal government would be "keeping a careful eye on" states' use of broad powers to regulate the lives of their citizens.
Officials, Barr said, should be "very careful to make sure...that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people."
But the attorney general said given where things stood with the virus in March, he believes President Donald Trump made the right decision in issuing strict social distancing guidelines.
"I think the president has made the right decisions for the right reasons," Barr said.
After the 30-day period of the Trump administration's coronavirus mitigation measures elapsed at the end of April, he said, "I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways – social distancing and other means – to protect themselves."
Echoing previous comments by Trump, Barr said "just measured in lives, the cure cannot be worse than the disease."
The Trump administration's current guidelines recommend that people not gather in groups of 10 or more people, go to restaurants or bars, and to limit their activities outside the home. The guidelines were originally implemented on March 16, but were extended at the end of March through April 30.
Most states have issued stay-at-home orders, instructing people to stay in their homes and closing nonessential businesses like restaurants and barbershops. Eight states, however, have not issued stay-at-home orders, though several cities within those states have issued their own mandates.
Asked about potential changes to the guidelines on ABC's "Good Morning America," Dr. Anthony Facui replied, "the virus itself is going to determine the guideline."
Although the guidelines help limit the spread of the virus, they have shuttered of large sectors of the economy. Some commentators on the right have questioned the impact on civil liberties, including Ingraham who said "right now we have no freedom of worship" and "no real freedom of assembly" because of what states are doing.
In a press briefing Wednesday, Trump said the country was "ahead of schedule" toward reopening, though to do so virus cases would need to be on the "downward slope."
"It would be nice to be able to open with a big bang and open up our country – or certainly most of our country. And I think we're going to do that soon. If you look at what's happening, I would say we're ahead of schedule," he said.
As of Thursday morning, coronavirus cases and deaths continued to climb in the United States, with the number of coronavirus deaths approaching 15,000, with more than 432,000 confirmed cases nationwide.
The attorney general said the coronavirus had impacted how he worked, too.
"I still come in most days, and we sit at the conference very spread out when we've - when we need a meeting," he said. "We do more by telephone and by a group teleconference and video conference than we have before."