President Donald Trump has paid little heed to a resurgence in U.S. coronavirus cases, announcing no new steps to curb the outbreak as infections jump to near-record levels and continuing with a normal schedule of meetings and travel as hospitals fill with sick patients.
Trump hasn’t asked Americans to change their daily routines, and top administration officials say there will be no repeat of the lockdowns that collapsed the U.S. economy in March. When Trump travels or stands close to other officials, he doesn’t wear a mask, a precaution urged by health officials.
But the growing number of cases -- there were nearly 35,000 reported on Wednesday -- could prevent the kind of economic rebound Trump has been promising by year’s end and further damage his standing in polls that show Democrat Joe Biden ahead nationally and in key swing states.
A mounting death toll adds to Trump’s re-election concerns as new modeling predicts the virus will kill 180,000 Americans by October.
Officials have downplayed the resurgence, saying it remains contained to about a dozen states and that deaths haven’t begun to climb.
“We’re going to see these things,” top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters on Thursday, referring to the growing number of cases. “But the economy is not going to be closed down again.”
Many governors on the front lines of the crisis -- including those in red states -- are acting far more aggressively than Trump. Texas on Thursday halted its phased reopening as Republican Governor Greg Abbott warned of a new sharp wave of the virus.
“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said in a statement.
The surge is particularly acute in the Sunbelt states that were among the first to ease social distancing requirements imposed to slow the spread of the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday in Ohio that the administration is working closely with those states, but emphasized “in some 38 states across the country, cases are stable or even declining.”
“While you see in the news over the past week or so we have rising cases and outbreaks in several southern states, I want to assure you that our task force and our entire administration is working continuously with leaders in those states to respond,” Pence said, adding that he’ll soon travel to Texas and Arizona to meet with officials there.
Texas, Florida Hit Records
Florida and Texas each hit records for cases Wednesday, with health officials in Houston saying its hospitals are packed.
Arizona, meanwhile, reached a peak in hospitalizations. In California, which also saw an all-time high for new infections, Walt Disney Co. delayed the reopening of its theme parks indefinitely, while Nevada’s governor ordered everyone to wear masks in public as some of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas made them a condition of entry.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut set quarantines for incoming travelers from U.S. hot zones, and North Carolina put its reopening on ice for three weeks.
U.S. health experts haven’t held a White House news conference in months. But the White House says its virus task force is continuing to meet and consult with governors. Trump administration officials insist they’re not trying to diminish the threat posed by the virus.
“We obviously are concerned,” Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday in a conference call with reporters.
“We may have a lag in what we see in hospitalizations and deaths because that can lag by three or four weeks, but I’m asking people to recognize we’re in a different situation today than we were in March or April.”
The Trump administration said more cases are being detected now than in earlier months when there were fewer tests available. They said that’s reflected in data showing a lower median age for those infected and a lower mortality rate.
When Trump comments on coronavirus, he generally seeks to downplay the increase in cases and shift the blame to China.
Trump on Testing
“The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of GREAT TESTING, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “The Fake News doesn’t like telling you that!”
White House aides said that Trump has been trying to remind the public that the virus came from China by repeatedly referring to it as the “Kung Flu,” a racially insensitive term that groups fighting discrimination say will lead to an increase in racist acts toward Asian Americans.
In his behavior, the president is seeking to show the country returning to normal. He held a rally at an indoor arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week and didn’t require attendees to wear masks. Trump continued his practice of not wearing one.
The president visited Arizona this week without a mask, speaking in a packed church where nearly every attendee followed his lead, as the state faces one of the sharper U.S. outbreaks.
On Thursday, the president traveled to Wisconsin, where he’s touring a shipbuilding facility and is scheduled to participate in a Fox News town hall event.
Trump moved the August Republican convention from North Carolina to Florida so he’d be allowed to have a celebration free of restrictions, but that state is now seeing cases soar.
Trump and his administration have been pressing governors to quickly reopen their economies. The president and his supporters have spent the week largely focusing on the economic reopening, and criticizing violent protests over police brutality and racism.
Trump has promised a vaccine will be ready soon, with a caveat.
“I don’t even like to talk about that, because it’s fading away,” Trump said of the virus last week in a Fox News interview. “It’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice and that’s going to happen.”
The rising U.S. case totals are causing alarm among U.S. allies. Europe is weighing restricting Americans from entering its countries, while the U.S. and Canada have jointly extended a de facto border closure until July.
In testimony to Congress earlier in the week, several top health officials indicated they’ve had little contact with Trump recently.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said they haven’t spoken to Trump about the virus in about two and a half weeks. Fauci called the virus situation a “mixed bag,” with some states doing better than others.
Trump has continued to tout a swift cure and economic rebound -- and even an end to the pandemic without treatments. But he also predicts that treatments and vaccines are coming quickly, as he did Wednesday during a White House visit with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
“I think you’re going to have a big surprise -- a beautiful surprise, sooner than anybody would think,” Trump said.