File photo: CGTN
WASHINGTON, April 18 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's call for lifting restrictions on several states has sparked controversy.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Trump urged "liberating" Virginia, Minnesota, and Michigan, three political swing states that now have Democratic governors, throwing his support behind protesters opposing restrictive measures there imposed to slow the spread of the COVID-19.
A group calling itself "Liberate Minnesota" staged a protest Friday afternoon outside the residence of the state's governor, Tim Walz.
Live-streamed video of the event showed many people were packed closely outside the residence, waving pro-Trump signs and flags. Few participants appeared to be wearing masks or other protective gear.
Similar protests, with some attendees armed, took place in Virginia, Michigan, and other states this week.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, tweeted as well on Friday, accusing Trump of "encouraging citizens to engage in armed rebellion."
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a former Democratic presidential contender, tweeted on Friday that he thinks Trump's remarks "encourage illegal and dangerous acts."
"The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies - even while his own administration says the virus is real, it is deadly and we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted," Inslee added.
During a press briefing at the White House on Friday, Trump defended his tweets, saying that he feels some state orders are "too tough."
"I think we do have sobering guidance, but I think some things are too tough. It's too tough," Trump said.
The president also said he wasn't concerned about protesters spreading the coronavirus among those attending demonstrations calling for states to reopen.
"No, these are people expressing their views. I see the way they are and I see the way they're working and they seem to be very responsible to me, but they've been treated a little bit rough," he said.
The remarks came a day after the White House issued guidelines that defer to states on reopening decisions, but recommended a three-phase approach, as the administration has been eager to put the nation's economy back on track, which has been hit strongly by business closures and job losses.
Vice President Mike Pence and other officials said Friday that they believe that there is enough testing in place for states to begin moving to the first phase of reopening, as health experts called for cautions.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, warned in a tweet on Friday that "relaxing too early could cause exponential spread."
According to a tally from Johns Hopkins University on Friday, the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States has topped 700,000, with nearly 37,000 deaths. The Trump administration declared this week that the country had "passed the peak" of infections.
In another tweet on Friday, Trump urged states to step up testing.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, the largest epicenter of the nation's coronavirus outbreak, on Friday chided the federal government's failure to provide enough support for testing.
"Large-scale testing is a massive undertaking," Cuomo tweeted. "We need the private sector to work with government to meet this enormous challenge. And we need the federal government to act."
The Democrat also said the pandemic in New York isn't over. The state has reported more than 230,000 confirmed cases and over 17,000 deaths.