President Donald Trump doubled down on his rosy predictions about the coronavirus pandemic late Tuesday, saying he’s confident in a “tremendous bounce back” that will “go very quickly” and claiming “the light at the end of the tunnel” can already be seen—even though New York City, he said, remains “a hot spot.”
Moments after Trump reiterated his call for a return to business as usual by Easter (“I just thought it was a beautiful time,”) health officials at Tuesday’s briefing offered warnings about the virus spreading from New York City’s metropolitan area and called on anyone who has visited the city recently to self quarantine for 14 days.
There's deep concern about New York City and the metro area, said Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator, where around 56 percent of all the cases in the United States are coming out.
“To everyone who has left New York over the last few days because of the rate of the number of cases you may have been exposed before you left New York," Birx said.
Vice President Mike Pence then encouraged Americans from the New York City metro area to follow guidelines and avoid non-essential travel. Pence called on those that have traveled out of the metro area to elsewhere in the country "to self isolate for 14 days.”
“We have to deal with the New York City metropolitan area as a high risk area,” Pence said.
During the pandemic, Trump hasn’t been shy about verbally scorning New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been among the public officials taking the most aggressive action to fight the virus.
Cuomo challenged Trump at a press conference earlier in the day Tuesday over the president's eagerness to wind down the public health measures to jump start the economy.
“But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest,” Cuomo said. “No American is going to say, accelerate the economy at the cost of human life. Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job one has to be save lives.”
Starting off the week, Trump struck a far more optimistic tone than experts and other public officials when he said he’s looking to “open up our country” in a matter of weeks instead of months. During a Fox News town hall earlier in the day held in the Rose Garden, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
Pressed on that timeline at the Tuesday evening briefing, Trump said any decision to reopen the economy would be “based on hard fact and data” but he maintained that it would be possible to beat the virus sooner rather than later.
Pence had also hinted at less restrictive measures during a press briefing Sunday night, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to announce new guidelines for people who were exposed to the virus so they could return to work by wearing a mask for a specific amount of time. Since first broaching the idea, the plan swiftly attracted criticism.
Other officials, both Republican and Democrat, haven’t shared Trump’s rosier outlook on returning American life more to normal so soon.
One of the leading forces fighting the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back on a specific timeline despite Trump's optimistic outlook during Tuesday’s briefing.
“You can look at a date, but you've got to be very flexible on a literally day by day and week by week basis,” Fauci said.