President Trump shows impatience with public health experts on coronavirus
WASHINGTON — With the nation’s economy shuddering to a stop, millions of Americans out of work and another cliff dive in the stock market Monday, President Donald Trump and his allies began showing public and private impatience with the extreme restrictions federal and state officials have ordered to deal with the exploding coronavirus crisis.
Even as U.S. infections and deaths jumped again, and additional cities and states issued stay-at-home orders, Trump said he will reassess his administration’s call to close schools and offices, encourage people to work from home and avoid gatherings after a 15-day period that ends March 30.
“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted in capital letters just before midnight Sunday. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”
Epidemiologists say social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus infections, and Trump’s surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Robbins, warned Monday that the outbreak will worsen this week because “not enough people … are taking this seriously,” citing those flocking to beaches in California or looking at cherry blossoms on the National Mall in Washington.
“We really, really need everyone to stay at home,” he said on NBC.
Vice President Mike Pence indicated Sunday at a White House briefing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue new guidelines as soon as Monday to allow more people to resume working outside their homes if they wear masks.
That could allow states with relatively low numbers of confirmed infections to start to ease the most onerous restrictions. Whether Trump will lift the federal restrictions that have caused economic carnage isn’t clear.
Long disdainful of scientists and other experts, he is known to be frustrated with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been given a wide berth to drive White House policy in private meetings and to explain and defend it in public.
Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist for decades who has won bipartisan accolades, has at times publicly corrected or contradicted Trump with his blunt talk on the need to take aggressive measures to stop COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, from overwhelming hospitals and potentially causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Trump’s tweets often reflect what he sees on cable TV, and his suggestion that he might lift the public health guidelines echoed language used Sunday by Fox News commentator Steve Hilton. On Monday, Trump retweeted Fox News personality Tomi Lahren, who equated the limits to “house arrest.”
Although coronavirus infections have been reported in every state, the worst hit states so far are on the coasts, including California and New York, both Democratic strongholds. For some of Trump’s supporters in more rural areas, the threat remains more abstract for now.
With warnings that unemployment could reach 20% or higher, Trump now faces the prospect that the nation will undergo a severe recession as he faces reelection. Until recently, he based his campaign almost entirely on the booming stock market, low unemployment and growing economy since he took office in 2017.
After his 90-minute White House news conference ended Sunday evening, Trump returned to his residence and began to work the phones, checking in on outside advisers and friends, many in the media and business world.
The president’s tweet hours later, according to one individual in touch with the president, seemed to reflect those conversations: shared concerns about the economic devastation being wrought by the public health response, as well as Trump’s frustrations with Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.