WASHINGTON – In a somber turn of events this week, President Donald Trump announced he was extending distancing guidelines, and the death toll could reach over 100,000. But as the coronavirus continues to sweep through the country, some of the messaging coming from the federal government seems at odds with states, and contradicts Trump’s earlier statements.
The U.S. has so far seen over 250,000 cases of the virus with more than 6,000 deaths. That’s a huge increase from early last month, when critics were accusing Trump of downplaying the extent of COVID-19.
Now, the president finds himself clashing with some state officials who say they aren’t receiving enough support from the federal government to handle the strain the outbreaks have caused on their health care systems, while Trump continues to tout the job he’s done to support states and say some “got off to a very late start.”
These were some of the conflicting messages we saw this week:
This week on coronavirus testing
From the early days of the pandemic, the coronavirus task force in the White House has focused on the production and availability of coronavirus tests, often claiming that anyone who needed a test would be able to get one. Meanwhile, health care providers and officials across the country have said they aren’t able to test people for the virus.
This week, the White House unveiled a new, more rapid test produced by Abbott, with results in 15 minutes of less. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, said at a White House press briefing that there are tests available that aren’t being used.
“It is disappointing to me right now that we have about 500,000 capacity of Abbott tests that are not being utilized. So they are out, they’re in states, they’re not being run and not utilized,” Birx told reporters Tuesday.
Birx declined to provide any further details on whether hospitals are aware these tests are available to them or to which states they have been distributed.
Earlier that day, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, contradicted Trump’s claim that testing problems had been resolved. Hogan said the administration had taken steps to create new tests, but “they’re not actually produced and distributed out to the states.”
“No state has enough testing,” he said.
Many Americans with symptoms of COVID-19 have reported difficulty in obtaining a test for the virus, while those who have been tested have been told it may take more than a week to get results.
Before the crisis:U.S. exported millions in masks and ventilators
The White House also announced Thursday that Trump had been tested for coronavirus a second time, with another negative result, though he has said he hasn’t experienced any symptoms of the virus.
“I think I took it really out of curiosity to see how quickly it worked,” Trump said.
For weeks Trump asked Americans not to take a test if they didn’t experience symptoms. He initially resisted testing, but he took his first test in mid-March after he said the media was “driving everyone crazy.” Many raised concerns he had been in contact with others exposed to the virus.
Trump: States ‘got off to a very late start’
Trump has said governors across the country are grateful for the work the federal government has been doing, with the exception of a few “complainers.” This week he accused some governors of not being prepared enough with stockpiles of medical supplies to handle the current pandemic and made claims that people may be hoarding equipment.
“Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?),” Trump tweeted Thursday.
“Remember, we are a backup for them. The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.”
Trump did not specify which critics he was referring to, but a group of Democratic governors that include Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andrew Cuomo of New York, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Jay Inslee of Washington state have criticized the slow pace of federal assistance.
Citing the high number of cases in the greater New York City area, Trump also said this week that New York and New Jersey “got off to a very late start” in trying to contain the coronavirus. Yet Trump has also been accused of being slow to move to contain and mitigate the virus’ spread.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, appeared at a task force briefing Thursday and told reporters that governors need to look within their own resources before saying the federal government hasn’t provided enough.
“The notion of the federal stockpile is that it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” Kushner said.
“The states should’ve been building their stockpile. We have almost 10,000 in our stockpile and we’ve been building it and we’ve been supplying it, but the states should be building,” Trump added. “We’re a backup, we’re not an ordering clerk.”
Trump then: Compared COVID to the flu. Trump now: Says ‘this is not the flu’
As Trump discussed the potential death rate in the U.S. this week, he repeatedly said that other people suggested nothing be done to slow the spread, which could have resulted in 2.2 million deaths rather than the 100,000 to 240,000 with intervention strategies.
“Just ride it. Ride it like a cowboy,” Trump said others were saying, speaking to the press on Sunday. “Ride that sucker right through.
“You know, you always hear about the flu. I talk about it all the time, we had a bad flu season. We’re in the midst of a bad flu season … but this is different, and part of this is the unknown,” he said.
Trump for weeks compared the coronavirus to the less deadly flu, and for a time seemed to question why the U.S. should shut down key functions of the economy or treat COVID-19 differently than the seasonal flu.
“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!” Trump tweeted March 9.
It’s a sentiment he’s repeated multiple times since the early stages of the pandemic.
During an early task force briefing before the number of cases in the country spiked, Feb. 27, he spoke about the death rates from the flu, saying that surprised him. At the same briefing, he said, “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
This week, Trump was adamant that the coronavirus isn’t the flu, and again said others suggested it was.
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“Think of what would have happened if we didn’t do anything. I’ve had many friends, businesspeople, people with great actually common sense. They said, ‘Why don’t we ride it out?’” Trump said.
“A lot of people have said, a lot of people have thought about it, ‘Ride it out, don’t do anything, just ride it out, and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious.”