Tags: Coronavirus | Donald Trump | Health Topics | Trump Administration | Cold/Flu | white house | response

Trump: Coronavirus Risk in America Remains 'Very Low'


By    |   Wednesday, 26 February 2020 06:10 PM

Amid market turmoil and coronavirus fears, President Donald Trump reassured Americans the risk of the virus in the United States is still "very low," adding that he has named Vice President Mike Pence the point person for the task force.

"The No. 1 priority from our standpoint is the health and safety of the American people," Trump said at a special White House briefing Wednesday night.

"Because of all that we have done, the risk to the American people remains very low," Trump added. "We have the greatest experts in the world right here, the people that are called upon by our country when things like this happen. We are ready to adapt and we're ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads."

Trump praised the early derided decisions to close up borders when the virus first spread in China.

"We're very, very ready for this," Trump added. "We're at a low level, and we want to keep it that way."

The president also expressed his condolences for the victims of Wednesday's mass shooting at a brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"Our hearts go out to the people of Wisconsin and to the families," Trump said.

As for being named the coronavirus task force leader, Pence added praise for the administration's preemptive steps to containing the virus in the U.S.

"From the first word of an outbreak of the coronavirus, the president took unprecedented steps to protect the American people from the spread of this disease," Pence said.

"The establishment of travel restrictions, aggressive quarantine effort of Americans returning, declaration of a public health emergency and establishing the White House corona[virus] task force are all reflective of the urgency that the president has brought to a whole of government approach."

Speaking next, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar remained committed to updating the degree of risk if or when it changes.

"Our containment strategy has been working," Azar said. "At the same time, what every one of our experts and leaders have been saying for more than a month now remains true.

"The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly, and we can expect to see more cases in the United States. That is why we've been reminding the American public in our state, local, and private sector partners that they should be aware of what a broader response would look like."

After days of the stock market tumbling, Trump took to Twitter earlier Wednesday morning to blame the media and Democrats for causing undue alarm and harming American financial markets.

He singled out MSNBC and CNN for "doing everything possible to make the Coronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible," and added that "incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape."

In advance, Trump played down the mortality rate for a pathogen that has been confirmed to have killed 2,700 people globally. His top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, echoed Trump's outlook, saying Tuesday the U.S. had "contained" the threat of a domestic outbreak.

Trump's and Kudlow's comments were at odds with warnings from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials who said that American communities need to prepare now for when the disease starts spreading domestically. So far, there have been just 60 confirmed cases in the U.S.

"The messaging by the White House is unhelpful," said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. "What the White House is doing is conveying a sense of overconfidence.

"Of course, we do want to maintain calm with the public, but it flies in the face of facts," he added. "There is strong likelihood that we will see an outbreak in the United States and that we could see community transmission."

Trump's public efforts to project calm masked a behind-the-scenes focus.

During his 36-hour visit to India, Trump received briefings from staff and periodically checked the impact on Wall Street, tweeting at all hours to try to reassure Americans and the markets about the spread of the virus.

Trump expressed deep concern to aides about the impact on the markets, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing. Trump has tied his fortunes to Wall Street more closely than any of his recent predecessors and has made a strong economy his No. 1 one argument for reelection.

As the media coverage of the virus has increased, Trump has grown concerned even fears of an outbreak would stagger Wall Street, leading him to wonder aloud if HHS Secretary Azar was the right person to lead the administration's response, the officials said.

The White House has considered naming a virus czar to be the point person on the disease, but is not sure that is the right route.

Since the start of the crisis, Trump has been reluctant to blame China, where the virus originated, for fear of upsetting President Xi Jinping or damaging ongoing trade talks.

But he is also fearful he could be accused of being unresponsive to the crisis. At the urging of a number of his internal and outside advisers, he directed the White House to adopt a more public presence, leading to a briefing by officials and emails to the press stressing the administration's response.

"Americans want to see their president taking charge and showing leadership, and that is exactly what President Trump is doing," said Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. "In restricting travel and implementing quarantines, President Trump has taken unprecedented action to protect American citizens from the coronavirus."

Privately, aides say concerns have spiked in recent days inside the Trump re-election campaign over the impact the virus could have on the November election.

The most pressing concern, aides said, is not the possibility of widespread outbreak in the U.S. — Trump’s aides do believe existing monitoring and restrictions are working — but the downstream effects of the virus on the global economy and public sentiment.

The virus has already shut Chinese factories that are part of the U.S. supply chain, such that Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody's Analytics, estimated Wednesday that U.S. growth could slow to 1.7% this year — roughly the same level as in 2016. Zandi said the situation could become worse if a pandemic emerges.

"The U.S. economy is more insulated from the impact of the virus, but it is not immune, and it too would likely suffer a downturn in this scenario," Zandi said.

Trump moved swiftly to severely curtail most travel to China a month ago, a move that administration officials believe slowed the spread of the virus to the U.S., even if it drew criticism for being too extreme in the moment.

Until now, federal health authorities have been preparing for the coronavirus’ arrival in the U.S. with little if any White House interference. They are following the playbook: pandemic preparedness plans that were put into place in anticipation of another flu pandemic, but that will work for any respiratory-borne disease.

Part of those plans call for educating the public on what to expect if the virus begins spreading in U.S. communities, such as school closures or calls for people to telework.

One of the lessons learned in prior crises is not to offer false assurances when scientists have questions about the illness.

As Trump plays down the threat of an outbreak, his past attacks on government scientists on everything from hurricane forecasts to climate change and his reputation for straining the truth all factor into the credibility of his message.

The flap over Trump's off-base comments about Hurricane Dorian last fall – when he went so far as to display a weather map that had been altered with a black marker to extend the hurricane's possible path – demonstrated the pitfalls when a president veers from the message provided by government scientists and career professionals.

Trump, who pilloried President Barack Obama over his response to the Ebola epidemic, now finds himself having to fend off a wave of criticism from Democratic presidential rivals who claim he's discounted science and has inadequate response plans.

At Tuesday's presidential debate, Mike Bloomberg claimed "there's nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing." Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., criticized Trump for trying to cut back funding of the CDC and the National Institutes of Health.

Trump's budgets have proposed cuts to public health, only to be overruled by Congress, where there's strong bipartisan support for agencies like the CDC and NIH. Instead, financing has increased.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2020 06:10 PM
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