President Donald Trump said Tuesday he’s looking at “phase two” of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic as the White House discusses disbanding the task force that has helmed the efforts so far.
The group, which includes top public health experts Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, could be dissolved by late May, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, told reporters earlier Tuesday.
“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 said during an event in Phoenix.
When asked whether he considered the mission of combating coronavirus to be accomplished, Trump answered: “No.”
The White House has begun to discuss a transition plan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pence said. A possible time frame for the move could be late May or early June, he added.
“We’re having conversations about that,” Pence said in a briefing the task force held for reporters on Tuesday, confirming an earlier report by the New York Times.
But on Tuesday, Pence portrayed the task force as having accomplished its goal as the U.S. outbreak — the largest in the world — plateaus. There have been nearly 1.2 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 70,000 deaths from the disease, but states are beginning to try to reopen businesses and lift social-distancing regulations as the growth of the outbreak slows.
On Sunday, Trump revised upward the number of the deaths he expects from the outbreak, saying the total could reach 100,000. In April he had said he thought between 50,000 and 60,000 Americans would die.
“We have slowed the spread, we have flattened the curve,” Pence said. Not every U.S. community is “out of the woods yet,” but now have the resources they need, he said, adding that officials are watching the Chicago and Des Moines areas closely.
“We are very confident we can meet the moment” with resources now available at hospitals, he said.
“Whatever decision the president makes with regard to the White House coronavirus task force will all be conditions-based,” he said. “But we are beginning — as states are reopening, we’re seeing progress that we’re making, we’re beginning to have those discussions about winding down the work of the task force.”
“The work goes on,” Pence said, adding that the White House intends to retain Birx, the State Department immunologist who’s coordinated the task force’s activities. “She’s the best in the world,” he said.
Beginning in March, the U.S. response to the outbreak began to revolve around the task force’s daily news conferences, which made luminaries of two government doctors — Birx and Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The task force news conferences were less beneficial for Trump. He tried to dominate the daily news cycle with briefings that sometimes ran over two hours, only to see declining public approval for his handling of the outbreak as deaths rapidly mounted.
The news conferences were dialed back after April 24, when Trump was ridiculed after musing about treating coronavirus patients with light and disinfectant.
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