Trump, Pence try to manage coronavirus response amid new fears it could spread
Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen(WASHINGTON) — A day after President Donald Trump declared Vice President Mike Pence the point person on the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus, the administration on Thursday continued to try to stem confusion over its handling of the outbreak.
Pence planned to lead an interagency task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday afternoon. The president formed the task force late last month and made Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar its chairman.
Azar said at a White House news conference Wednesday he would remain in that role, even though Trump said at that same press conference that he wanted Azar to “focus on” his regular duties.
The secretary did not learn of the decision to make Pence the lead until just before Trump announced it publicly, three sources told ABC News.
The vice president said Wednesday that he would “continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action” and would reach out to state and local officials.
At the Wednesday press conference, Trump made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, taking questions for the first time and trying to portray a sense of calm amid rising fears over the virus, called COVID-19.
But some of his comments did not clear up some of the public’s confusion.
While health officials standing alongside him said cases would increase, Trump at times questioned whether that was true and downplayed the threat.
A day earlier, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official had warned Americans of “significant disruption” coming because of the virus, hours after the president said the situation was “under control” and that it was a “problem that’s going to go away.”
On Wednesday evening, Trump told reporters that “there’s a chance that it won’t spread.” In the same press conference, he noted that in California a 15th case of the virus had been confirmed.
But he did not mention what the CDC announced soon after the news conference concluded: that the patient had no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual, making it possibly the first case of “community spread” on American soil.
The case raises questions about whether broader testing should be allowed. It appeared to indicate the virus had been circulating among the local community and infecting people, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected, according to the CDC.
The federal government has so far resisted wider testing, and Pence’s office on Thursday morning did not respond to a question about whether that position had changed considering the California case.
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