Trump clarifies that coronavirus task force will ‘continue on indefinitely’

Trump clarifies that coronavirus task force will ‘continue on indefinitely’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the White House coronavirus task force would continue its work on the pandemic, focusing on vaccines and therapeutics, a day after appearing to give support to the possibility it would wind down its operations.

“Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

On Tuesday, Vice-President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, told reporters the White House may start moving co-ordination of the U.S. response on to federal agencies in late May.

“Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job,” Trump said later that day, after visiting a mask factory in Arizona. “But we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form and that form is safety and opening and we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

When asked why the White House was considering winding down the task force, Trump replied: “Because we can’t keep our country closed for the next five years.”

Asked if he was proclaiming “mission accomplished” in the fight against the coronavirus, Trump said, “No, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it’s over.”

Trump said Tuesday Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, doctors who assumed a high profile during weeks of nationally televised news briefings, would remain advisers after the group is dismantled. Fauci leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Birx was response co-ordinator for the task force.

More than 70,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. The U.S. death toll is the highest in the world.

Trump acknowledged there might be a resurgence of the virus as states loosen the restrictions on businesses and social life that were aimed at curbing its spread.

But, he said, “the people of our country should think of themselves as warriors. We have to open.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, right, coronavirus task force co-ordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will continue to advise the administration, Trump said Monday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Trump in March placed Pence in charge of the task force, with the vice-president effectively taking over the function from the administration’s health secretary.

Racing to develop vaccine

Pence said they have begun discussing a transition plan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which plays a lead role in distributing urgently needed supplies across the country.

Democratic politicians and some Republicans have criticized Trump for playing down the threat and encouraging states to start to reopen their economies.

Several Democrats took to social media on Tuesday after Trump’s comments on the task force, with Maryland congressman Steny Hoyer calling it a “shameful abdication of responsibility.”

Pence said the trend lines for infections in the United States are on a positive course and that the country “could be in a very different place by late May or early June.”

The University of Washington’s influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Monday doubled its previous forecast for COVID-19 deaths in the United States, however, saying it now predicts the number could reach about 135,000 by early August as restrictions are relaxed.

Birx said the team would “keep a close eye on the data.” She said the group was looking at outbreaks in Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, as points of concern.

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Pence’s office announced he would visit Des Moines on Friday to discuss reopening with faith leaders and meet with agricultural and food supply stakeholders.

The focus is now on therapeutics, vaccines and addressing infection hot spots, the task force members said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn said the Trump administration was committed to accelerating the search for a vaccine, with the goal of producing 100 million doses by the autumn and 300 million doses by the end of the year.

“Whether that can be achieved or not, it is realistic,” said Azar. “We would not be doing this if we did not think it were realistic. Is it guaranteed? Of course it is not.”

Most experts have suggested clinical trials to guarantee a vaccine is safe and effective could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months.

Published at Wed, 06 May 2020 11:58:26 +0000