May 21 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump predicted a strong resurgence of the U.S. economy Thursday during a visit to a Michigan Ford plant as states begin to lift restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While addressing workers at the plant, which began to produce ventilators a month ago, Trump said he expects the economy to bounce back as the country faces record levels of unemployment following extended closures of businesses and other facilities.
"You are demonstrating that we can open our country while taking precautions like social distancing, daily medical screenings and strict hygiene," he said. "I want to thank you all for leading America back to work. With your help in our policies, this country is poised for an epic comeback."
Trump also boasted the United States would become the world's "premiere" pharmaceutical manufacturer and drugstore, praising Ford for becoming a "world leader" in ventilator production after previously not having manufactured the devices.
The president lamented the nearly 95,000 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide, declaring "we lost too many. But he pushed for states to continue reopening, hinting at upcoming guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening churches.
"A country wasn't meant to be shut down," Trump said. "We did the right thing but now it's time to open up."
Michigan has been the site of protests at the state Capitol, in some occasions featuring armed demonstrators, calling for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to lift the state's stay-at-home order.
World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic
A Court of Claims judge ruled Thursday that Whitmer had the legal authority to extend Michigan's state of emergency in response to the pandemic under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act following challenges from Republicans in the state legislature.
Trump on Thursday also approved an emergency declaration in response to flooding that occurred after a dam breach in central Michigan swelled the Tittabawassee River to its highest level in history and forced thousands to evacuate.
State officials said Trump's visit -- which also included a meeting with African-American leaders as well as a tour and listening session at the Ford Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti -- violates Whitmer's order requiring manufacturing facilities to "suspend all non-essential in-person visits, including tours."
"While the president's visit is contrary to the governor's order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19," Zack Pohl, Whitmer's communications director, said in a statement.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Trump would be asked to wear a mask during his visit. Trump has previously declined to wear a mask in public, saying it's unnecessary since he is regularly tested for the coronavirus.
"If he fails to wear a mask, he's going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facility inside our state," Nessel said.
Trump did not wear a mask while addressing the crowd or speaking with media but said he wore one in another area "where thy preferred it." A Ford representative said that Bill Ford encouraged Trump to wear a mask when he arrived and that the president wore one during a private viewing of Ford GTs but later removed it for the remainder of the visit.
Michigan is considered a battleground state for Trump's re-election campaign. He won the state by less than 11,000 votes in 2016.