Vice President Mike Pence contended Wednesday that Donald Trump only learned last weekend of government projections showing at least 100,000 people will die in America from coronavirus, despite such warnings being pushed by some experts weeks ago. He also signalled life in the United States likely will remain dramatically altered through the spring.
"It was those numbers the president was presented with on Saturday," Mr Pence told CNN, saying Deborah Birx, a top infectious disease expert, only completed an analysis that produced the dire modeling on Friday.
Pressed on whether the Trump administration could have done more sooner to get in front of the coming disease, Mr Pence echoed the president by blaming China for opting against warning the world that Covid-19 had broken out in one of its provinces. Mr Pence again said the overall risk to most Americans remains "low," but warned the disease is potentially deadly for older people.
Mr Pence said the virus outbreak might not subside in America until "early June," saying government modeling shows cases and deaths seriously leveling off around Memorial Day in late May.
After the president for weeks said Covid-19 was merely "like the flu" and repeatedly dismissed the severity and scope of the outbreak, his No. 2 denied Mr Trump misled the country.
"I don't believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus," he said during a tense back-and-forth with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
He called the next 30 days, all of April, "vital."
The June timeframe is a stunning reversal by the White House about the length of the outbreak, as is the 100,000-200,000 projected deaths.
Mr Trump last Tuesday announced he wanted most or all of the country "open for business" by Easter Sunday (12 April). Into late last week, Mr Trump remained hopeful he could waive or ease some of the guidelines he put in place for a campaign the White House dubbed "15 days to slow the spread." Instead, after Ms Birx and Anthony Fauci, the top federal infectious disease expert showed him the new data, he agreed to extend those through April 30.
Democratic lawmakers and some public health experts have slammed the Trump administration for what some call a "deadly" slow response.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on Tuesday called on Mr Trump to green-light federal authorities to order the manufacturing of more ventilators and protective gear for medical workers.
"He can do that by the Defence Production Act right now. He could have done it yesterday, a week ago, three weeks ago, five weeks ago. They're in short supply," the former VP, who is poised to take on the president in the general election, said. "And our first responders are literally risking, and some losing, their lives to try to help the American people."
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