As the coronavirus task force weighs additional measures to take amid the pandemic, President Donald Trump continued to resist a nationwide stay-at-home directive, despite his top health official stressing more strongly than ever that strict social distancing is key to saving American lives.
He also announced at Friday’s White House briefing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a reversal, was now advising Americans wear non-medical masks in public, adding it was voluntary.
And while Capitol Hill lawmakes are officially on recess, Democrats are pushing another round of relief amid a volatile stock market and nearly 10 million jobless claims in the past two weeks, but the Senate’s Republican leader is raising concerns over the cost.
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Here are Friday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump: CDC now advising Americans wear non-medical masks
President Trump began the daily White House briefing on the crisis by announcing new government guidance that Americans should wear masks.
“The CDC is announcing the use of non-medical cloth face coverings as an additional voluntary public health measure,” President Trump said, of the reversal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is voluntary. You do not have to do it,” he said.
The president added that he did not think he would wear a mask.
Trump also announced that hospitals and healthcare providers treating uninsured patients with coronavirus will be reimbursed by the federal government through the $2 trillion relief measure passed by Congress last week.
“Today I can so proudly announce that hospitals and health care providers treating uninsured coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government using funds from the economic relief package Congress passed last month,” he said.
“Stay at home. This is ending. This will end. You will see some bad things, and then you will see some really good things. And it’s not going to be too long,” Trump said, in an apparent effort to reassure the public. “We’re getting better. We’re getting better very quickly,” Trump said.
“This was artificially induced,” the president added before tossing to the vice president, without offering an explanation of what exactly he meant.
Asked why he wouldn’t be following the CDC’s recommendation for voluntary non-medical mask use, he replied he’s “feeling good” and suggested he doesn’t think of it as presidential.
“I just don’t want to be doing — somehow sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful, Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask — as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, it somehow, I don’t see it for myself,” Trump said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the CDC had reversed its guidance because of new evidence of transmission by asymptotic patients.
“In light of the new evidence, CDC recommends and the Task Force recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” Adams said. “These include places like grocery stores and pharmacies.”
“Please, please leave the N95, the medical supplies, for the medical professionals, health care workers, and frontline workers,” Adams said. “Know that this is not a substitute for social distancing. And please remember this is all about me protecting you, and you protecting me.”
When the president was asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl if he agrees with recent comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci that all states be under a stay-at-home order, he repeated his stance that it was a decision for each state to make.
“I leave it up to the governors. The governors know what they have been doing. They are doing a good job. We are close to 90 percent anyway,” Trump said of Americans under stay-at-home directives. “I like that from the standpoint of governing, and I like that from the standpoint of even our Constitution.”
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield emphasized that embracing social distancing is “the powerful weapon” for Americans to combat the COVID-19 but explained that the new recommendation of facial coverings provides “another strategy to protect someone from spreading the virus.”
“This virus has a great weakness. It can’t jump from one person to another if it has to swim more than six feet,” Redfield said. “That said, we know that there may be individuals in areas of significant community transmission that may be asymptomatically infected, and we know that a face barrier can actually interrupt the number of virus particles that can go from one person to another.
After Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, warned the country can’t afford another “hot spot” metropolitan area like New York City, Trump followed her, saying, “the model shows hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come way under the model.
“The professionals did the models. I was never involved,” Trump added, seeming to distance himself personally from the dire projection. “But you know what, hundreds of thousands of people. I want much less than that.”
Trump also was asked to clarify comments made by his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at Thursday’s briefing when he said that the states should have had bigger stockpiles and that the federal stockpile of medical equipment and supplies is “ours.”
Hours after the comments, the Trump administration appeared to edit the national stockpile website to match Kushner’s comments. The president was asked to confirm at Friday’s briefing that the federal stockpile was designed to be able to distribute needed equipment to the states, as the website suggested before the wording was changed.
“Sure, but it is also needed for the federal government,” Trump said. “We have a federal stockpile, and they have state stockpiles. And frankly, they were — many of the states were totally unprepared for this. So, we had to go into the federal stockpile. But we’re not an ordering clerk.”
New White House procedure: Anyone who comes close to Trump must get rapid COVID-19 test
The White House has confirmed a new procedure is now in place requiring anyone who comes into close proximity with the president, such as in meetings, to get a rapid COVID-19 test.
“As the Physician to the President and White House Operations continue to protect the health and safety of the President and Vice President, starting today anyone who is expected to be in close proximity to either of them will be administered a COVID-19 test to evaluate for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers status to limit inadvertent transmission,” Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
The White House is declining to elaborate on why this policy is being implemented now, other than to say that decisions are being made in consultation with the White House physician.
This development comes just a day after the president said he received his second negative test results.
The tests will not apply to members of the press at this time.
— ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Jordyn Phelps, Katherine Faulders and Jon Santucci
Kudlow says he won’t ‘sugarcoat’ it, U.S. economy is ‘going to get worse’
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, warned of the dire economic situation the country faces amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s going to get worse in the weeks ahead, there’s no question about it,” he told reporters Friday. “We have not seen the worst of it, I don’t want to sugarcoat it.”
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Kudlow declined to offer a numerical figure for how bad he forecasts unemployment numbers to get, but when asked on FOX News whether the country is looking at double-digit unemployment figures, he didn’t mince words.
“The numbers are going to come in very badly, they’re going to look terrible in the weeks ahead. How much longer, I don’t really want to forecast. That’s up to the health people. But there’s no question that it will be bad,” Kudlow said.
His comments came after a Friday report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed U.S. employers cut 701,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% from 3.5%.
It marks a sharp reversal from the administration’s tone just a few weeks ago, when Kudlow himself said there was no need for “massive, federal throw money at people plans” and the administration was looking at “micro” economic stimulus actions.
Kudlow said the administration’s focus remains on implementing the current stimulus and not in writing a future plan, but he added, “if we need to do more, we will do more.”
— ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
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