The Trump administration has suspended the entry of all migrants coming across the Mexico and Canada borders in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had ordered the ban on all those “seeking to enter the U.S. without proper travel documentation,” Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said during a Friday briefing by the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
Asylum seekers would be sent back to their country of origin and the U.S. would work with Mexico to send “additional populations” back there, Wolf said. The policy will last “as long as it needs to,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added.
It had been “determined that the introduction and spread of the coronavirus [at] the Department’s Border Patrol stations and detention facilities presents a serious danger to migrants, our frontline agents and officers and the American people,” Wolf said.
The task force confirmed that the southern border would be closed to non-essential travel in a joint decision made by the U.S. and Mexico. On Thursday, the State Department implemented a Level Four travel advisory, instructing residents to cancel international travel and telling all overseas citizens to return home immediately or be prepared to stay abroad indefinitely.
During Friday’s briefing, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar touted “bold decisive actions” that Trump has “taken to protect Americans from the coronavirus spreading across our borders.”
The U.S. has 14,250 confirmed cases and 205 deaths from coronavirus, according to John Hopkins University’s latest figures. Mexico has 164 confirmed cases.
The Trump administration’s briefing on Friday came shortly after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom implemented state-wide “stay at home” orders.
Trump said he “applauded” the moves but didn’t think other cities needed to do the same.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he strongly supported the moves in New York and California and urged people across the country to remain indoors.
Trump confirmed on Friday that he had invoked the Defense Production Act on Thursday after signaling his intention to do so earlier in the week. The law gives the government authority in emergencies to harness industrial production to help in a time of need.
He said ventilators, masks and respirators were in mass production and would be distributed to states. “We have millions of masks which are coming,” Trump said. “The states are having a hard time getting them so we’re using the Act.”
Trump was pressed again on Friday about how he’s approaching the use of an anti-malaria drug that he championed Thursday as being available “almost immediately” to coronavirus patients.
The FDA quickly rolled back the president’s comments on the drug, saying it was available for doctors to ask to use experimentally on patients but it had not been clinically tested or approved for widespread use. In a statement later in the day, the FDA said there are “no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19,” but added “there are several FDA-approved treatments that may help ease the symptoms from a supportive care perspective.”
Fauci continued to urge caution during Friday’s briefing in stark contrast to Trump’s optimism.
“We’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it’s truly safe and truly effective,” Fauci said.
Trump continued to tout the drug as Fauci looked on, saying “it may work and it may not work.”
The president added: “I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling.”
When MSNBC reporter Peter Alexander pressed Trump about what he would say to Americans who are scared, the president threw condemnation at the journalist.
“I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say,” Trump said. “I think it’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
When another reporter later asked Trump whether the president thought scolding a reporter was appropriate during a pandemic, the president continued to say he was in the right and vented again about fake news.