In a press conference Wednesday evening, President Trump denied the notion that a coronavirus outbreak is “inevitable” in the U.S., contradicting federal health watchdogs who believe stateside spread is a matter of “when” and not “if” and on Monday urged the public to prepare for a potential health crisis.
Trump cites “low” risk
According to Trump, Americans face a “very low” risk of exposure to the coronoavirus, which the World Health Organization named COVID-9.
“We’re ready to adapt. The level in our country is very low,” Trump said in a press conference Wednesday night in the White House Briefing Room. The president brushed aside health watchdogs’ entreaties to prepare. “The words are just in case. We don’t think we’re going to be there. We don’t think we’re going to be anywhere close,” Trump said.
Beyond downplaying the risk of an outbreak in the U.S. Trump also believes the spread in the U.S. would be much more limited than what China has experienced.
Trump described the country’s borders as “very controlled,” referencing “good” early decisions, even if they were ridiculed, such as barring entry to individuals traveling in from certain areas.
While the stock market has posted steep declines this week on investor fears of a U.S. outbreak, Trump emphasized that American supply chains are in good shape, and consumers are, too.
Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar said the country should take preparatory steps in order to “mitigate” a potential coronavirus outbreak, cautioning that while the immediate risk to Americans remains low, the “degree of risk has the potential to change quickly.”
As Trump sought to downplay fears and prevent nationwide panic, he recounted a conversation in which Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases described how the “flu kills 25,000 to 69,000 people a year.”
“That was a shock to me,” Trump said, adding that the flu has killed 360,000 people over the past decade. America is prepared to combat an epidemic, the president said, pointing to quarantine facilities ready to receive patients.
Trump named Vice President Mike Pence as the point person in charge of coordination between federal health professionals and the Trump administration, noting that Pence “would report back to me.” The president cited Pence’s experience setting up the Indiana healthcare system during his governorship.
The president expressed optimism that a vaccine could be fast-tracked and developed “fairly quickly.” However, Fauci painted a different picture, explaining during the press conference that even if the U.S. can accelerate the traditional timeline to approve a coronavirus vaccine and move it into production, it wouldn’t be available to help the current global outbreak but would be useful if the virus were to “recycle next year.”
Even if a prototype vaccine can begin human trials within 12 weeks, it would still need at least another six months to determine human safety and another six months to determine its efficacy before moving to the approval stage, Fauci said of the testing process.
Investors didn’t appear to buy Trump’s assurances that the country is prepared for a spike in the number of people who could become infected by the coronavirus.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended Thursday’s trading session down 1,191 points, bringing the week’s decline to nearly 3,240 points. As the world comes to grips with the possibility of new infections rising, investor confidence took a hit as equity markets in Europe and Asia also saw declines.
The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally across 48 countries. So far more than 2,800 have died from the disease. The majority of those infected are in China in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Since the weekend, other countries such as South Korea, Italy and Iran have reported a surge in new cases and an increase in deaths as well. Meanwhile, Japan’s government has ordered all schools closed during the month of March. A case in Brazil marks the first confirmed infection in Latin America.
By Thursday, The Netherlands, Romania and Norway reported infections for the first time, joining confirmed cases across Europe in Britain, Spain, Greece, France and Austria. Health officials are hoping to discover how the virus is spreading. Germany reported an infection with no known connection to anyone who had the virus, a situation that has also occurred in the U.S.
Potential coronavirus cases in the U.S.
Reports surfaced Wednesday that Northern California identified its first case of the coronavirus of unknown origin. Past infections in the U.S. were tracked to a source of origin, whether connected to travel to Wuhan or to passengers on the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship located off the coast of Japan. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed the case on Friday, acknowledging that it initially refused to test the patient because the individual didn’t “fit the exiting CDC criteria.”
San Francisco earlier this week declared a coronavirus health emergency, and Orange County followed shortly after, in the lead up to Trump’s press conference.
U.S. cities on Thursday began disclosing that they have been monitoring possible coronavirus cases, with individuals under self-quarantine.
“We knew this was inevitable,” California governor Gavin Newsom said at a news conference. California is monitoring 8,400 people who arrived in the state on domestic commercial flights, he said. While Newsom emphasized that California doesn’t have a state-wide coronavirus emergency, the state plans to broaden the criteria used to determine when an individual should be tested for the virus.