WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump insisted Thursday his administration is getting coronavirus under control even as the daily number of new cases in the U.S. surpassed 50,000 for the first time and a top health expert warned the situation could get far worse.
At a White House news conference focused on the latest U.S. jobs report, Trump boasted about steps his administration has taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve implemented an aggressive strategy to vanquish and kill the virus and protect Americans at the highest risk, while allowing those at lower risk to return safely to work,” Trump said. “That’s what’s happening.”
“In many cases,” he added, “we’ve done an incredible job.”
While Trump contended the coronavirus crisis is “being handled,” his comments came a day after the U.S. reported 50,655 cases, the largest single-day total of new cases since the pandemic began. More than 128,000 people have died in the U.S. and the country’s case total has reached more than 2.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Tuesday that new coronavirus infections could increase to 100,000 a day if the nation doesn’t get its surge of cases under control.
“We’ve really got to do something about that, and we need to deal with it quickly,” Fauci said during a Senate hearing on the pandemic. “It could get very bad.”
Trump called a surprise press briefing following the release of new data from the Department of Labor, which showed the U.S. economy added 4.8 million jobs in June. The unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% in May, as businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic began to reopen and more Americans went back to work.
But the president appeared to take a victory lap even as economists warned a renewed spike in coronavirus cases in several states could force more shutdowns and curb gains made in unemployment numbers. Another 1.4 million people filed unemployment claims for the first time last week, according to Thursday’s report.
Nearly two dozen states have been forced to pause plans to reopen or again shut down parts of their econom–ies. California reimposed restrictions on its residents after seeing a surge while Texas and Georgia set single-day records for new cases. Arizona reached high marks in virtually all meaningful categories, including new cases, deaths, ER visits and the number of people hospitalized.
Trump, however, insisted the U.S. is getting the virus “under control.”
“We have some areas where we’re putting out the flames or the fires, and that’s working out well…I think you’ll see that shortly,” Trump told reporters.
One of the president’s top health officials appeared to contradict that assertion. Adm. Brett P. Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told Congress on Thursday that the U.S. is “not flattening the curve right now” and the spike in cases is not only due to expanded testing as the president has suggested.
Trump has repeatedly blamed increased testing for a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases, but health experts have pointed to other factors including some areas loosening social-distancing restrictions too quickly as well as people refusing to wear masks in public.
“There is no question that the more testing you get, the more you will uncover, but we do believe this is a real increase in cases because of the percent positivities are going up. So this is real increases in cases,” Giroir said.
“We really do believe the current outbreak is primarily due to under 35s with a lot of gatherings, not appropriate protection like masks. Yes, it’s important to reopen and we believe in the guidelines, but I think the weight of the evidence is guidelines are not – you know the personal responsibility is really a key right now.”
Despite the uptick in COVID-19 cases, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the White House had no regrets about encouraging states to end their lockdown measures.
“I think we’ve had a very careful plan working with the states – this is primarily the states’ responsibility,” Mnuchin told reporters after Trump left the briefing room.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who appeared alongside Trump and Mnuchin, said administration officials were developing “recovery best practices” amid the recent spike.
“If you have to phase out bars, so be it, for a few weeks,” Kudlow said. “I think some places might have been over-exuberant and now have to come back, and get back to these best practices of distances and masks and testing and personal hygiene.”
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, seized on Trump’s economic remarks, lambasting the president for leaving out an important number.
“As happy as I was for millions of workers returning to their jobs, there is one number that I was stunned that the president didn’t mention even once in the process, in the entire time he talked about it. The number was 50,000. Yesterday, the number of new COVID-19 cases in America topped 50,000 in a single day. We’ve never hit that number before in the course of this virus,” Biden said.
“To me and to many Americans, this is a very worrisome turn in the path and severity of the virus.”
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and Joey Garrison.