As global markets continue to tank, with Wall Street trading halted after the Dow Jones Industrial Average dove more than 2,000 points, and as at least 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia reporting cases of the novel coronavirus President Donald Trump on Monday doubled down on downplaying the crisis, blaming the news media and the Democratic Party for hyping the outbreak and repeating that the risk is still “low to the average American.”
“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American,'” Trump tweeted Monday morning before the markets opened.
Later, about an hour after the markets plunged, Trump continued to engage in a confused narrative about the crisis, downplaying the situation and often putting him at odds with the messaging that his own health experts are trying to get across.
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“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!,” the president tweeted, appearing to attempt to calm fears as the global markets plummeted.
Less than 10 minutes before Trump tweeted that “the economy will go on,” and characterized the coronavirus as less dangerous than the common flu, Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News, “Make no mistake, this is a very serious health problem. Nobody is trying to minimize that. It is a very serious public health threat to the people of the United States.”
“President Trump is leading a whole of government response with the vice president helping him on the public health issues we’re facing with the novel coronavirus. That is his number one concern in terms of the economy. He and his economic team have the tools to keep this economy going strong,” Azar then told reporters at the White House Monday. “But the public heath and protecting the American people is the number one priority for all of us.”
Trump also added that closing the U.S. borders to China travel was the “BEST decision” — although since that action weeks ago — cases of community transmission — person to person inside the United States — not connected to China — continue to rise.
He could be seen shaking hands with supporters Monday morning in Orlando, Florida, against the advice of health experts, as he headed to a fundraiser.
After the Dow dropped more than 2,000 points, Trump was set to participate in an internal White House meeting Monday afternoon focused on the economic response, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A White House official announced that top Wall Street executives have been invited to a meeting at the White House with Trump on Wednesday amid economic concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
While no details about the offer have been released yet, it’s the latest indication that the Trump administration is increasingly looking at addressing the economic repercussions from the virus.
Over the weekend, while reported U.S. cases increased to more than 550 with at least 22 deaths in the U.S. across at least 34 states, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams claimed that the virus was being contained in some areas, comparing it to a seasonal flu.
“If we had massive numbers of cases we would be seeing more deaths. And so we actually feel pretty good that some parts of the country have contained it just like when you look at the flu,” Adams said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “When we look at the flu tracker, some parts of the country are having much more severe flu seasons. Some are having very mild flu seasons. The same thing for coronavirus.”
When asked if Trump or Democratic candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, — all in their 70s and technically higher risk — should stop traveling or holding rallies in light of the outbreak, Adams downplayed the threat to the president, saying Trump has been washing his hands frequently.
“But speaking of being at risk, the president, he sleeps less than I do and he’s healthier than what I am,” Adams, who is in his mid-40s, said.
Adams walked back his comments on Twitter Monday morning, calling it an “inelegant comparison.”
“I should not have made this comparison. I was wrong,” Adams said. “What’s most concerning is we need to get information out to the American people about coronavirus, but some would rather focus on my inelegant comparison versus the info about who is at risk for coronavirus – which was the most important part of the interview.”
Despite concerns that administration officials were exposed to COVID-19 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland late February, senior White House sources tell ABC News that President Trump and his closest advisers have not been tested for coronavirus as of Monday morning.
Trump admin walks back president’s comments at CDC
The administration continued to send contradictory signals over the weekend about its response to the coronavirus, after Trump claimed during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.”
“As of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test (can have one), that’s the important thing, and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect,” Trump said, seeming to clap back to his phone call with the president of Ukraine that triggered his impeachment. “They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.”
Trump added that the government’s testing capacity is “amazing,” but that notion has been widely disputed by scientists and health officials who have expressed alarm over the speed with which the CDC has tested and over the quality of its tests.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared to walk back the president’s comments Saturday, cautioning that everyone will not be automatically approved for a test.
“You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test,” Azar said at an off-camera briefing at the White House. “That is our medical system in the United States, in the same way that you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn’t prescribe that.”
Meanwhile, Trump said, “I’m not concerned at all,” when asked Saturday about the coronavirus getting closer to the White House.
House Speaker Pelosi proposes to send more relief to families affected by the coronavirus outbreak
Before a meeting with Democratic leaders to discuss the Congressional response to COVID-19, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters late Monday she is rallying her caucus behind a proposal to provide more relief to families facing the coronavirus outbreak.
“These are additional. This is about the families. We’re about putting families first. If your children’s school is closed, who’s going to take care of them at home? If kids are dependent on food at school, how are they going to have food security?” She said. “So addresses some of those things, paid family leave — for the purpose of the coronavirus, unemployment insurance in case your company just folds, although we had in our bill SBA loans for helping to sustain a workforce” Pelosi said.
“So it’s about how we protect the families and how we protect the workers, the health care providers and the rest in the atmospheres in which they’re working,” she continued.
Pelosi also stressed that any decision to close the Capitol due to concerns over coronavirus will be based on science.
“At this time there is no reason to do so, but it’s not my decision. It’s a security and the health decision and we’ll be depending on the experts” she said.
Fauci: “Anything is possible” on shutting down coronavirus epicenters in U.S. in mitigation efforts
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that he doubted the U.S. would have to impose measures as “draconian” as total shutdowns ordered in regions in northern Italy to halt the spread of coronavirus but admitted that “anything is possible.”
“We have to be realistic. I don’t think it would be as draconian as nobody in or nobody out. But if we continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what we call ‘mitigation,’ where we have to essentially do social distancing, keep people out of crowded places, take a look at seriousness, do you really need to travel, and I think it’s particularly important among the most vulnerable,” Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“You don’t want to alarm people, but given the spread we’ve seen anything is possible and that’s why we’ve got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak,” he added.
Trump campaign: “Proceeding as normal”
Trump does not currently have a campaign rally scheduled ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary contests, marking the first time he hasn’t held a counter programming rally all primary season.
However, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News on Saturday that they were “proceeding as normal” with the reelection events despite the fact that, in the last week, Washington, New York and California have all declared states of emergency and other events with large gatherings — like the technology. music and film South by Southwest — are being canceled across the country.
“We will announce rallies when we are ready to do so. President Trump had a town hall this week, a fundraiser and we have loads of campaign events on the event schedule on the website,” Erin Perrine, the Trump campaign’s principal deputy communications director told ABC News.
Democrats propose paid-sick leave among “people-based initiatives”
Democrats have criticized the Trump administration for sending mixed messages on the coronavirus and have suggested a sweeping list of stimulus measures in light of the outbreak.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi released a joint statement Sunday night urging Trump to prioritize the needs of American workers and their families before the needs of major corporations in their response to the outbreak, proposing “people-based initiatives” including paid family leave, free coronavirus testing and anti-price gouging protections, among others.
“We are hoping to work with the administration on a coordinated, government-wide plan to respond to the coronavirus. We are pleased that we passed an emergency response bill on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis that provided a significant increase in resources beyond the Administration’s request,” their statement read.
“However, President Trump continues to manufacture needless chaos within his administration and it is hampering the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. In light of reports that the Trump administration is considering new tax cuts for major corporations impacted by the coronavirus, we are demanding that the administration prioritize the health and safety of American workers and their families over corporate interests.”
China to Pompeo: Stop calling the novel coronavirus the “Wuhan virus”
China’s Foreign Ministry criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday for calling the novel coronavirus the “Wuhan virus,” referring to the city in China where the outbreak first appeared.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang noted that the World Health Organization has said that the virus should be referred to as the “novel coronavirus” and not by a geographic name, adding that Pompeo was attempting to slander China’s efforts, according to the Washington Post.
“We condemn the despicable practice of individual U.S. politicians eagerly stigmatizing China and Wuhan by association with the novel coronavirus, disrespecting science and WHO,” Geng said at a news conference in Hong Kong Monday. “The international society has a fair judgment, and Pompeo’s attempts of slandering China’s efforts in combating the epidemic is doomed to fail.”
Pompeo used the term “Wuhan virus” and “Wuhan coronavirus” to refer to the novel coronavirus at least twice last week. Separately, on Sunday night, Arizona GOP Rep. Paul A. Gosar announced that he would self-quarantine due to possible exposure to what he called the “Wuhan virus,” sparking criticism from users on Twitter, accusing the congressman of enticing racism against the country.
At least three other Republican members of Congress, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz announced they would also self-quarantine after they, too, interacted briefly with a person infected by the coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland late February.
Trump interacted with two of the four members over the weekend.
Coronavirus could present a “leadership opportunity”
Former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday that, if handled correctly, the outbreak could be a “leadership opportunity” for the president and that as the number of cases rise, people should prepare for an environment of exponential growth in cases.
“This is a leadership opportunity for the president to paint for the American people a picture of what it’s going to look like in a number of week, month, up to a year,” Bossert said. “We don’t have a crystal ball but that’s what leaders are for and I think it’s fair to say without being an alarmist that at least the math, at least the numbers suggest that we are anywhere from eight days to would weeks from being in an exponential growth environment.”
ABC News’ Kyra Phillips, Trish Turner and Will Steakin contributed to this report.
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