Trump disbanding coronavirus task force despite growing number of U.S. cases

Coronavirus
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President Trump is looking to wind down the White House coronavirus task force in the coming weeks even as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. continues to rise, the New York Times reported.

Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump appointed to lead the task force, confirmed that such a plan was in the works on Tuesday. “I think we’re having conversations about that and about what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency-by-agency level. And we’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan with FEMA,” Pence told reporters.

“But it’s — it really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”

Touring a mask production facility in Phoenix, Ariz., on Tuesday, his first public event outside the White House in weeks, Trump confirmed that he was disbanding the task force.

“Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form,” Trump told reporters, adding, “and that form is safety and opening and we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

As reported Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has projected a rise in daily deaths from COVID-19 to around 3,000 by the end of this month, and a near-doubling of total deaths, to 134,000, by the beginning of August.

Asked in Arizona whether, given the new projections, it was the appropriate time to shutter the task force, Trump pointed to the economy.

“We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years,” Trump said. “You could say there will be a recurrence and there might be. Most doctors and some doctors say it will happen and it’ll be a flame and we’ll put the flame out.”

Following a much-criticized task force briefing on April 24, during which Trump suggested that coronavirus might be treated with injections of disinfectant, the president has retreated from the daily meetings with reporters.

Instead, Trump has focused his attention on jump-starting the nation’s shuttered economy, encouraging states to relax restrictions on businesses and gatherings meant to slow the spread of coronavirus. Yet while the number of new cases has continued to fall in the New York metropolitan area and a few other big cities, it has been rising steadily in much of the rest of the country. Guidelines set forth by the coronavirus task force — which call for a phased lifting of restrictions when the number of new cases of the virus is shown to decline over two weeks — have all but been ignored in many states pushing to reopen economic activity.

President Trump at an April 19 coronavirus task force briefing. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

During task force briefings, Trump’s remarks were often at odds with the advice of his medical experts, notably on the drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump repeatedly touted despite warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious diseases on the task force.

After the White House barred Fauci and other members of the task force from testifying before Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took aim at the briefings.

“I was hoping they would spend more time on the crisis instead of those daily shows that the president put on,” Pelosi said.

In explaining his decision to keep a member of the task force from testifying, Trump said Tuesday that “the House is a bunch of Trump haters.”

On April 15, with the U.S. death toll from the virus having climbed into the thousands, Trump used his coronavirus task force briefing to announce the formation of the “Opening Our Country Task Force,” which the president said consisted of more than 200 CEOs who were supposed to advise the administration on a return to economic activity. Another group for the same purpose, this one consisting of a select number of members of Congress, was announced the following day.

It is unclear whether either of the panels has actually convened, or what they have done.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has played a central role in the administration’s effort to address the economic wreckage that has resulted from the pandemic.

In an interview last Wednesday, one day after the number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases topped 1 million and deaths from the virus hit 60,000, Kushner declared that “the federal government rose to the challenge and this is a great success story, and I think that that’s really what needs to be told.”

As of Tuesday, more than 1,194,000 Americans had tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 70,000 had died of it.

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