Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday that the coronavirus task force, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would issue guidance this week about how people exposed to the virus could return to work by wearing a mask.
Pence, along with President Donald Trump and other task force officials, appeared in the White House briefing room for a press conference with reporters Sunday evening. The briefing lasted more than an hour and consisted of long portions of the president speaking about his 2016 campaign and the hardships that “rich people” face when running for president.
In between the president’s remarks, Pence alluded to the fact that some Americans who have been exposed to someone with the virus may be returning to work and that they could do so safely if using a mask. His statement comes as most Americans hunker down at home, some abiding by state orders to stay inside except for grocery and pharmacy trips and other essential outings. Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow at a rapid pace in the U.S. On Sunday, the number of people infected with COVID-19 surpassed 30,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Four hundred people have died.
Trump and his coronavirus task force continue to face criticism for its slow response to governors’ cries for shipments of essential medical supplies such as masks, gloves and gowns. In past briefings and interviews task force officials have dodged questions about the scale and timing of those deliveries to state governments.
On Sunday, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said the federal government had shipped hundreds of tons of supplies from the national stockpile to coronavirus hotspot states such as New York and that the deliveries would arrive within the next 48 hours.
Last week Trump signed the Defense Production Act, which if implemented would allow the federal government to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defense. Since then, though, the president has refrained from enacting a plan to direct American companies to ramp up domestic production of essential medical supplies.
White House adviser Peter Navarro, who is working on an executive order to force companies in the U.S. to buy American medicines and goods, said the president has not moved forward with the Defense Production Act because corporations are volunteering to help.
“What we’re seeing… is the greatest mobilization of the industrial base since World War II,” Navarro said. “We’re getting what we need without putting the heavy hand of government down."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York on Sunday said Trump should order companies to manufacture medical supplies instead of relying on volunteers. New York has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country with a total of 10,356 infected and 76 dead. Cuomo said New York has a limited number of hospital beds and that the state needed the federal government’s help to build new facilities to treat patients.
During the press conference, Trump said the National Guard will activate its units in California, Washington state, and New York to help fight the outbreak, and that the Army Corps of Engineers would dispatch to Cuomo’s state to build alternate care sites consisting of medical stations and beds.
“We’re enduring a great national trial,” Trump said. “We’re doing everything we can every day to... defeat this visible enemy. For those of you who are feeling alone and isolated, I want you to know we are all joined together as one people.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are in the midst of trying to pass a massive stimulus bill that would help manage the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. After days of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday morning that the party had “many, many” problems with the bill in its current form, adding that it would include “a large corporate bailout provision with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight."
“We’re working urgently with Congress. Our goal is to get relief to Americans as quickly as possible. This will help our economy. You will see our economy skyrocket,” Trump said. “The only reason a deal wouldn’t get done is pure politics.”