Despite the number of novel coronavirus cases surpassing one million in the U.S., President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued to push to reopen the country, with new numbers out that show the country’s economy shrank nearly 5% in the first three months of this year, the biggest quarterly decline since the Great Recession.
“This is going away,” Trump said, rejecting the idea of a ‘new normal’ in America. “I want to go back to where it was.”
Earlier, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of the hard-hit state of Louisiana visited the White House Wednesday morning, as GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did one day before him, and said that testing in his state is going well, while more governors look to lift restrictions before the weekend.
With the White House social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday, Trump told reporters that they’ll likely be “fading out” as Vice President Mike Pence said they’re largely already incorporated into the new reopening guidelines for states.
The president continued to tout the country’s testing capacity as “superior” on Wednesday but walked back his assertion that the U.S. will hit 5 million tests a day “very soon” — claiming he never said that, when he had said it at an East Room event on Tuesday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci also attended the Oval Office meeting and shared what he called “quite good news.” In clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments, Fauci said mortality rates have tended “better” with the drug remdesivir, adding that’s it’s “opening the door to the fact that we now have the capability of treating.”
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Here are Wednesday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump: Coronavirus ‘is going away,’ announces trip to Arizona for next week
President Trump sat down at a roundtable meeting with industry executives Wednesday afternoon, and even as the U.S death toll surpassed 60,000 lives, chose
to take an optimism tone, looking forward to what he said would be the country’s economic revival, stressing that more governors are looking to lift restrictions and more well-off businesses are preparing to reopen.
The president was notably dismissive of the idea of a new normal where people are wearing masks and have to space out in public gatherings, instead saying he wants the country back to where it was before the virus struck.
“I see the new normal being what it was three months ago,” Trump said. “I think we want to go back to where it was, I mean, when I look at a baseball game, I want to see people right next to each other. I don’t want to see four seats in between every person so that the stadium becomes 25% of its original size. No. I want to see the NFL with a packed house. I don’t want to see NFL with three seats in between people.”
“I want to go back to where it was. That’s where we’re going to be. Look, this thing will pass, and when it passes, that’ll be a great achievement,” the president continued, despite no vaccine against the virus.
Although experts predict a vaccine is still roughly a year away, and the virus will likely never go away and might even come back in the fall, the president asserted it will eventually be eradicated.
“Again this is going away. This is going away. I think we’re gonna come up with vaccines and all, but this is going away. And when it’s gone, we’re going to be doing a lot of things,” Trump said.
To emphasize that message, Trump also revealed he is traveling to Arizona next week — though it wasn’t clear for what purpose — and said he “hopes” to have rallies again before the November election, citing “a tremendous pent up demand.”
“I’m going to Arizona next week, and we look forward to that. And I’m going to, I hope, Ohio very soon. And we’re going to start to move around and hopefully in the not too distant future, we’ll have some massive rallies, and people will be sitting next to each other,” Trump said.
“I can’t imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full,” he added. “I hope that we’re going to be able to do some good old fashioned 25,000 person rallies, where everyone’s going wild because they love our country, expect that to happen.”
Trump says current WH social distancing guidelines will not be extended
The White House social distancing guidelines, initially enacted for 15-days and then extended for another 30, will not be renewed once they expire Thursday, April 30, President Trump said Wednesday in an Oval Office meeting.
“They will be fading out. Now the governors are doing it. I’ve had many calls from governors,” Trump said, explaining individual governors can determine the guidelines that are best for their states. “They are explaining what they are doing. I am very much in favor of what they’re doing. They are getting it going. We are opening our country again.”
White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx diplomatically backed the president up and expressed confidence that “every governor is adapting.”
“We have been very encouraged to see how the federal guidelines have helped inform or at least provide a framework for governors in moving forward all the way through from what they now call either phase zero all the way through phase three,” Birx said.
It comes one day after a key forecasting model used by the White House raised its death toll to nearly 73,000 lives by early August, up 5,000 lives from last week as more states look to reopen, and the model adapts to human behaviors.
Fauci touts promise of remdesivir in announcing findings of new study
The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci touted the potential promise of the drug remdesivir to treat the novel coronavirus in announcing the findings of an NIH study, calling it “good news” as he spoke in the Oval Office alongside President Trump.
A randomized, international trial of the drug remdesivir resulted in shorter periods of patients experiencing symptoms and a slightly reduced mortality rate, according to Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored the trial.
“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said, calling the development both “very optimistic” and “highly significant.”
“The bottom line,” Fauci said, is that this is “opening the door” to the ability to better treat patients with the virus. “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” he added.
Explaining why the government is making this announcement early, Fauci said there is an obligation to make this information available to those who have been in the placebo treatment group.
“Whenever you have clear-cut evidence that a drug works, you have an ethical obligation to immediately let the people who are in the placebo group know, so that they can have access,” he said.
President Trump called the drug’s promise a “very positive” event that can be built upon.
“I think it’s the beginning. I think Tony explained it really well. It’s a beginning. It means you build on it. I love that it’s a building block. As a building block, I love that. Certainly it’s a positive, it’s a very positive event from that standpoint,” Trump said.
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The government’s announcement comes after another new study showed that some patients treated with remdesivir saw signs of improvement and raised no safety alarms, but medical experts have also urged caution that more studies are needed.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Jordyn Phelps
Trump administration asks intelligence agencies to investigate whether China, WHO hid information on coronavirus
Two administration officials confirm to ABC News that the White House ordered intelligence agencies to review communications intercepts and other data to see whether China and/or the World Health Organization concealed information early on about the emerging coronavirus.
The news was first reported by NBC.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement: “As the president has said, the United States is thoroughly investigating this matter. Understanding the origins of the virus is important to help the world respond to this pandemic but also to inform rapid-response efforts to future infectious disease outbreaks.”
— ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Ben Gittleson
Commerce Department: US economy shrinks nearly 5% in first quarter
The real gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, shrank 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020, ending a record streak of expansion, according to a preliminary estimate released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday.
This is the first decline since 2014 and the worst quarterly contraction since the Great Recession.
It’s among the first economic indicators to show the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, while talking to reporters on the White House North Lawn Wednesday, candidly acknowledged it won’t recover in the second quarter either but be “significantly worse.”
“Next quarter is going to be much worse,” Kudlow said but added that he expects a “snapback” in the second half of the year.
— ABC News’ Elizabeth Thomas
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