WHITE HOUSE - The White House’s coronavirus task force will continue to operate, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday, reversing what he said the previous day.
“We’re keeping the task force for a period of time,” Trump said as he hosted a group of nurses in the Oval Office.
Asked by a reporter to explain why he said the previous day that the entity was “winding down,” Trump replied: “I had no idea how popular the task force is until yesterday.”
The president said that following his remark Tuesday he received calls “from very respected people” who suggested that he should keep it going.
“The task force will be around until we feel it’s not necessary,” Trump said, adding that “two or three new members of the task force” will be announced next Monday and will work on the economic recovery.
As for the existing members, who are focused on public health, “if they want to stay, they can,” Trump said.
"Earlier Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was among those criticizing Trump’s plan to shutter the task force.
“He should treat this as the national emergency it is. The president needs to understand the coronavirus is not going away right away, no matter how much you wish it was,” the mayor said. “I think he is losing touch with the reality and that is very, very dangerous."
The task force was established in late January to oversee the administration’s effort to monitor, prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread" of COVID-19. A month later, Vice President Mike Pence was named the chair the group.
In March, the task force began holding daily briefings at the White House for the media. Many of those came to be dominated by Trump, casting Pence, as well as the task force’s most prominent physicians, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, into supporting roles for the television cameras.
Later in the afternoon, during a meeting with Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, the president asked that state’s medical director and epidemiologist, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, who also was in the Oval Office, to join the coronavirus task force. She accepted and Trump assured the governor he was only borrowing the official, not stealing her.
The president also said that Birx and Fauci are not being sidelined and will remain in their current roles on the coronavirus task force.
The president began limiting his appearances at the White House lectern for task force briefings after he was widely criticized for suggesting the internal use of disinfectants and lights could be used to treat coronavirus patients.
Such daily briefings are on hiatus with the new White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, appearing in the press briefing room instead of Trump.
McEnany held her second scheduled briefing Wednesday since assuming her post last month and highlighted that 7.5 million people in the country have now been tested for the coronavirus, leading the world in testing. But she said it is a myth and “nonsensical” that everyone in the country needs to be tested for economic activity to resume.
“We can’t keep our country closed down for years,” the president said earlier in the day in the Oval Office, asserting that the people of the United States will not stand for it.
The president characterized the pandemic’s impact on the United States as the worst attack it has ever suffered.
“This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this,” Trump said. “It should have been stopped right at the source (in China) and it wasn’t.”
“We view it as a war. This is a mobilization against a war. In many ways it's a tougher enemy,” the president said, characterizing the battle against COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus has killed more than 72,000 people in the United States and infected 1.2 million in the nation, the largest reported number for any country.
“It could very well be the case,” the president acknowledged, that there will be more deaths because of the reopening of the country while the pandemic continues.
Trump, however, is casting doubt on what other governments have reported for their COVID-19 death tolls.
“I don’t believe them for China. I don’t believe them for other countries,” said Trump on Wednesday.
Margaret Besheer contributed to this story from New York.