WHITE HOUSE - The president and the vice president of the United States are seeking to assure the public that the coronavirus pandemic has passed its peak in the country despite continuing alarm among many health officials.
“We’re at a low mark,” Trump told reporters in the Cabinet Room on Monday afternoon.
The growth of new COVID-19 cases and deaths overall in the United States has slowed, but some new hot spots are emerging.
The projected number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths by October 1 was raised Monday to 201,129 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
As of Monday, the new virus has killed more than 116,000 people in the United States, and 2.1 million have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any," Trump asserted.
Earlier in the day, the president, on social media, called “testing a double-edged sword” that makes the country “look bad” but is “good to have.”
Our testing is so much bigger and more advanced than any other country (we have done a great job on this!) that it shows more cases. Without testing, or weak testing, we would be showing almost no cases. Testing is a double edged sword - Makes us look bad, but good to have!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2020
The comments were mocked on Twitter, where it was pointed out that even with no testing the number of infections would be the same.
The “positivity test rate remains very stable in the country” except for a very few states, according to Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke to reporters along with the president in the Cabinet Room. “Overall, the American people are to be commended” for taking steps to allow states to reopen amid the pandemic.
Many states began relaxing some of their social distancing measures last month.
Concerned officials have pointed out that reopening the economy prematurely could lead to a second wave of infections.
On Sunday the southern states of South Carolina and Alabama hit single-day records of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Hospitalization rates for the disease are declining all over the country, said Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force.
However, in Texas — with a population of 29 million — and its largest city, Houston, a record number of hospitalizations are being reported.
Just to the north of Texas, in the state of Oklahoma, Trump plans to hold the first of his revived political rallies this Saturday.
“COVID is here in Tulsa, it is transmitting very efficiently,” Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart told the Tulsa World newspaper. “I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”
The president, however, said “Oklahoma’s done very well” fighting the coronavirus.
“We’re either close to or over 1 million people wanting to go,” the president said about the rally scheduled for the BOK Center, which has an advertised capacity of about 19,000 people.
Asked why Tulsa was selected at the first site for the revival of the president’s political rallies, Pence replied because “in a very real sense, they flattened the curve” for the coronavirus in the state of Oklahoma. “Their hospital capacity is abundant.”
Epidemiologists note new cases of the virus are actually increasing in the state.
There will be “measures in place” to screen attendees entering the rally, Pence said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday noted that the president’s reelection campaign is asking those planning to attend the rally to sign waivers pledging not to sue if they contract the coronavirus.
“I guess he worries that they might get it, but he doesn't care. He wants to have his rally. That's the superficiality of this president,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Trump on Monday, at a roundtable discussion on the health of America's seniors, also stood by the therapeutic use of a malaria drug after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine in hospitals.
The FDA noted that hydroxychloroquine and the more toxic chloroquine are not likely be effective in treating COVID-19 based on the latest scientific evidence.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they think it saved their lives,” the president said.
“I took it and I felt good about taking it,” he added. “It certainly didn’t hurt me.”
The World Health Organization said Monday it continues to review the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment option for the coronavirus. Last month, WHO temporarily halted a study involving patients in 35 countries amid concern about the drug's safety but resumed the program earlier this month.
Trump again Monday blasted the WHO as a puppet of China, where the new virus was first reported.
“They have been a disaster,” Trump said. “China should not have let it happen. But it happened.”
Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.