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President Trump on Wednesday said the coronavirus task force would continue “indefinitely” but would shift its focus to safely re-opening the country amid the coronavirus pandemic — following indications from his administration that officials were considering winding the group down.
“The White House Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, has done a fantastic job of bringing together vast highly complex resources that have set a high standard for others to follow in the future,” the president tweeted.
“Ventilators, which were few & in bad shape, are now being produced in the thousands, and we have many to spare. We are helping other countries which are desperate for them,” he continued, touting the task force’s efforts. “Likewise, after having been left little, we are now doing more testing than all other countries combined, and with superior tests.”
He added: “Face masks & shields, gloves, gowns, etc. are now plentiful.”
The president said his “last four Governors teleconference calls have been conclusively strong.”
“Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN,” Trump tweeted. “We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate.”Trump added that the task force “will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”
The president’s tweets come after officials indicated the administration has been in talks over potentially winding down the task force, even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow in the U.S. and as sectors of the economy begin to reopen.
Vice President Pence, who has led the task force, said Tuesday that White House officials were “having conversations” about finishing up the group’s business and, instead, having “agencies take over the work” — specifically mentioning the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]. Pence said, though, that the earliest the agencies could take over the group’s responsibilities would be Memorial Day or early June, if the task force itself were to be discontinued.
The task force has included Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator under both the Trump and Obama administrations; U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and more.
A White House official told Fox News on Tuesday the White House has been shifting focus toward re-opening the country, as outlined in Phase 1 of the administration’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines. The official said it would be an ongoing shift over the next several weeks.
The official told Fox News that doctors will continue to play an “important advisory role” in the process, as the administration has aimed to “make sure medical guidelines are kept up to date” and Americans are able to safely return to work. The official stressed that doctors were not being removed from the equation and called any reports reflecting that “false.”
The official told Fox News that members of the task force will continue to provide input, but the group would not be meeting as regularly as they had been at the outset of the pandemic. The official added that the White House’s focus was shifting toward vaccines, therapeutics, testing and re-opening the economy.
It's unclear whether Trump's tweets on Wednesday indicate changes to that approach.
The task force had delivered near-daily briefings from the White House for nearly two months, sometimes lasting for more than an hour, providing updates on the impact of the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response.
But, those briefings also became a source of controversy. Trump led many of them, taking criticism for spending chunks of time touting his administration's accomplishments and sparring with some of the media. Lately, the briefings had been more or less discontinued.
Meanwhile, Democrats were quick to criticize the administration for suggesting it could wind down the task force.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., accused the president of downplaying the coronavirus.
"It is unthinkable that President Trump would shut down the main task force established to coordinate our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic while we are still in the midst of figuring out the health and economic implications of this pandemic," Hoyer said Tuesday. " It is a shameful abdication of responsibility.”
The president, on Tuesday, defended the talks of winding down the task force during a visit to a mask production facility in Arizona. He said his advisers were looking "very closely" at the coronavirus and would continue to.
”We can't keep our country closed for the next five years,” Trump said. “We've learned a lot about the coronavirus."