Donald Trump watches as Dr Anthony Fauci speaks to reporters at a White House Coronavirus briefing (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
Pushing aside medical advisors as it puts a priority on the economy over public health, the Trump Administration says it will disband the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that the Administration is planning to wind down the Task Force, led by Dr Deborah Birx and including the top infectious diseases specialist Dr Anthony Fauci, by Memorial Day at the end of May.
Pence indicated that the experts are being shut down because of their advice against a quick lifting of stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, which would risk a resurgence of Coronavirus.
Even as Government models project an increase in America’s daily death rate to 3,000 by June 1, Pence said the task force is no longer necessary because of “the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country”.
Donald Trump, whose ambitions to “re-open” the US by April 12 and then May 1 were blocked by the medical advice, declared, “We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country.”
The Administration’s announcement came amid:
*A rise in the US death toll rose to 71,078, an increase of more than 2,100 in 24 hours
*A poll of Americans knocking back the lifting of social distancing restrictions: while 56% say they are comfortable with a trip to the grocery store, 67% rejected shopping at a clothing store and 78% would not dine at a restaurant
*More revelations of Administration mismanagement, with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — who last week proclaimed a “great success story” — leading a staff with little or no experience who hindered States from obtaining vital supplies
*The Five Eyes intelligence services (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and Dr Fauci’s shredding of Trump’s “Blame China” campaign that the virus was released from a laboratory in Wuhan
*Dr. Rick Bright, fired as head of the Government’s vaccine effort, files a complaint over the Administration’s blocking of necessary measures and pursuit of the untested drug hydroxylchloroquine as a miracle cure
*Trump’s pursuit of a photo opportunity at a Honeywell plant in Arizona, falsely claiming in an interview than any American can be tested for the virus.
Asked what he had done in three years to “restock those [medical] cupboards” for a crisis, Trump — who disbanded the White House pandemic team in 2018, said, “I had a lot of things going on.”
He emphasized that the US must be “re-opened”, even if it means more deaths:
I’m not saying anything is perfect. And, yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.
On Monday night, Fauci carefully pushed back Trump, “How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?”
A Columbia University model, used by the White House and New York leaders, assessed that a small increase in contact rates will lead to renewed transmission of Coronavirus and an increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths: “These findings indicate that most states are not well-positioned to reopen their economies and simultaneously control the spread of COVID-19 infections.”
Jeffrey Shaman, the epidemiologist leading the Columbia group, explained, “The rebound will be masked because of the lag in the system. By the time you recognize the rebound, it could be too late. Cases will still increase for another two weeks or more.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noted another model used by the White House, from University of Washington researchers, forecasting a US death toll of 134,000 by August 1.
He responded to Trump’s acceptance of more deaths: “To me…a human life is priceless. [New York’s] reopening plan doesn’t have a trade-off.”
NY Gov. Cuomo on reopening states:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 5, 2020
Dismissing the Experts
But Trump trashed the medical advice, “These models have been so wrong, so out of whack. And they keep making new models.”
He and Pence then stole headlines with their plans to shut down the experts.
Pence said, “We’re starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window” for the dismissal of the Coreonavirus Task Force.
Trump reinforced his priority on the economy by saying the Administration might have a group focusing on “safety and opening”.
He said Birx and Fauci would remain involved in the government response. However, he tipped off how they will be silenced, repeating his ban on Fauci appearing before a House committee.
REPORTER: Why won't you let Fauci testify before the House?
TRUMP: "Because the House is a set up. The House is a bunch of Trump haters … they, frankly, want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death." pic.twitter.com/G3G5OoV5IV
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 5, 2020
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has unsettled the Trump camp by using interviews to gently but clearly push back Trump’s disinformation.
He said in an interview in March, “When you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things one, two, three, four times, and then it happens. So, I’m going to keep pushing.”
In recent weeks he appeared at fewer daily White House briefings, now said to be suspended after Trump’s comments that ingestion of disinfectant and UV treatement might cure Coronavirus.
However, on Tuesday the doctor took apart the claims of Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that China manufactured the virus or allowed it to escape the Wuhan laboratory.
If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated….Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.
He also implicitly chided the Administration for its failure to provide adequate testing: “Shame on us if we don’t have enough tests by the time this so-called return might occur in the fall and winter.”
White House medical advisors say at least 500,000 daily tests are needed for a safe lifting of stay-at-home orders. Other experts have assessed that up to 5 million per day might be necessary.
But the Administration’s belated testing effort has plateaued at about 200,000 tests per day amid shortages and distribution problems with lab kits and chemical reagents.