Trump, who just lost his re-election to President-elect Joe Biden, remains angry that an announcement of progress in developing a vaccine against the disease came after polling day. And aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases skyrocket and hospital intensive care units in parts of the country approach capacity.
Public health experts fear that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action against the pandemic or coordinate with Biden’s team in the last two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hamper the the country’s ability to rapidly distribute a vaccine next year.
The White House coronavirus task force held its first post-election meeting on Monday. Officials discussed the rising number of cases, the promise of a vaccine being developed by Pfizer, and acknowledged the service of Navy Vice Admiral John Polowczyk, a member of the task force that has retired Monday.
But Trump, who is not attending task force meetings, remains concerned about last week’s election results. It has yet to weigh on the recent surge in virus cases that has spurred national and local authorities to scramble, and hospitals concerned about their ability to treat those affected.
With more than 100,000 new confirmed cases in the United States reported daily for more than a week, Trump has focused more on tracking the deployment of a vaccine, which will not be widely available for months. He was angry that Pfizer deliberately withheld an announcement on the progress of its vaccine trial until the end of election day, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not was not allowed to comment publicly. Pfizer said it deliberately did not withhold the test results.
Although the president has consistently played down the pandemic, which has killed more than 240,000 Americans and infected more than 10 million people in the United States, public health experts have expressed concern over Trump’s silence on the worrying spike in cases, as well as his refusal to start. coordination on virus issues with Biden’s transition team.
“It’s a big deal,” said Dr Abraar Karan, a global health specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “The transition will not happen until January and we are currently in a complete crisis. We already know where this is going. … It is not enough to say that we will wait for the next president to address this issue.
The president’s silence comes as many White House and campaign officials have tested positive for the virus in recent days.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tested positive last week after attending election night at the White House. Other party members have also tested positive, including White House political director Brian Jack, former White House aide Healy Baumgardner and Trump’s campaign advisers David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski said Thursday he believed he contracted the virus in Philadelphia while participating in the president’s election challenge there.
Meanwhile, state and local authorities across the country are scrambling amid an increasing workload. As Trump remains silent, they are urging their residents to step up mask wear and social distancing, as they prepare for many epidemiologists to worry about the start of a tumultuous time.
In New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order starting on Friday that bars, restaurants and gyms be closed at 10 p.m., and set a 10-person cap for private gatherings. In Illinois, public health officials have asked employers to allow their staff to work from home when possible and urged residents to stay home as much as possible and avoid non-essential travel.
In Iowa, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, who has resisted coronavirus restrictions, announced earlier this week that masks would now be required at indoor events of more than 25 people, and she has banned outdoor events 100 people or more unless all participants wear masks.
Trump has not answered questions since polling day. It hasn’t slowed his Twitter habit, but he’s used it almost exclusively in recent days to rage over election results and spread unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.
By the end of Thursday afternoon, Trump had tweeted or retweeted more than three dozen times that day. Only one was linked to the virus – a retweet from a post by Senator David Perdue about Georgia receiving 2,000 vials of a new antibody treatment.
White House officials declined to comment on Thursday when Trump last engaged with members of the coronavirus task force, but insisted he remained focused on the pandemic
“The President is regularly briefed on the coronavirus,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said. “The relevant information is provided to him on big decisions, and then he moves forward in the way that best suits our country.”
In the closing days of the campaign, Trump sought to reassure Americans that the country was “turning the corner” on the virus and he mistakenly predicted that Democrats’ attention to the disease would wane right after the election. The president made a sunny public tone even after testing positive for the virus in early October and was hospitalized for three days after contracting the virus. His wife, Melania, and teenage son, Barron, also contracted the virus.
Biden, for his part, has broadly called the election a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. He has made tackling the virus his top priority as he moves forward in his transition. He spoke by phone Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about the escalating pandemic and the prospects for passing a COVID-19 relief during the lame session of Congress.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris held a virtual meeting with his new coronavirus advisers this week, and Biden made remarks warning Americans that “the challenge that awaits us right now is still immense and growing.
“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone wore one mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives, ”Biden said in a speech this week. “Please, I beg you, wear a mask.
Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University Law School, said Biden would only be able to “scratch the surface” of battling a pandemic that could be a “raging wildfire” when ‘when he takes office on January 20.
He added that even the good news about Pfizer’s development of a vaccine that showed 90% effectiveness in early trial results could be diminished if Trump does not begin coordination efforts with Biden’s team on how to deploy the vaccine. Some public health experts believe that the task of persuading Americans to take the vaccine and distribute it widely could be as complicated as developing the vaccine.
“I fear the next three months to come will be the worst we’ve faced during the pandemic,” Gostin said. “America is like a ship in a storm, and the captain has decided to go play golf.”
Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press editors Jill Colvin and Alexandra Jaffe contributed reporting.