As health experts warn of increasing coronavirus cases and encouraged workers to telecommute, President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, declared again on Friday that the disease is “contained” and urged Americans: “Stay at work.”
Trump also insisted Friday: “We stopped it,” apparently referring to cases coming in from China.
The men made their comments on the same day that two more coronavirus deaths were reported — in Florida — bringing the national toll to 17.
Their remarks underscored a widening rift. Health experts are warning of a serious outbreak of a dangerous disease and the necessity for immediate, focused action. The president and his officials, however, are claiming that the threat has largely been quelled.
Kudlow, who has no known background in medical science, said on CNBC that the coronavirus “frankly, so far ... looks relatively contained.”
He also said it was “contained ... pretty close to airtight” last month when the number of cases was a fraction of the current toll.
Kudlow urged Americans to “stay at work.” He told CNBC anchor David Faber: “I’m saying we should not overreact. In many ways, America should stay at work. We should stay at work.”
In the U.S., COVID-19 is now being passed via community transmission, which means its spread can be extremely difficult to contain.
A Westchester lawyer who was in serious condition with the new coronavirus in a New York City hospital was commuting daily to work in Manhattan until he became ill. At least 28 other cases have been linked to him so far, The Business Insider reported Friday.
A total of more than 2,770 people are now under self-quarantine for the illness in New York City alone for symptoms or contacts, The New York Times reported Friday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging workers to telecommute if possible, and to definitely stay home and not go to work with suspected coronavirus symptoms, no matter how mild, because they could spread the disease and threaten lives. Some businesses and organizations have shut offices to help stop the spread of the disease, while others are experimenting with telecommuting before it’s necessary.
Trump on Thursday also claimed most people with the disease would suffer few ill effects and could continue working — though he said in a tweet later that he wasn’t encouraging people to go to work sick.
Sticking with the administration’s narrative, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also insisted Friday that the virus was “contained.” Challenged by a Fox News reporter, who pointed out that cases are increasing, Conway snapped: “Are you a doctor?”
Trump insisted “we’re in great shape” concerning the effect of COVID-19 on the economy in remarks in the Oval Office after signing a bill allocating $8.3 billion in the battle against COVID-19, which has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide.
“This came unexpectedly, a number of months ago,” he told reporters, referring to the disease. “I heard about it in China ... and we made a good move. We closed it down, we stopped it .... It was a very early shut down.” He may have been referring to an announcement by his administration Feb. 7 to bar foreign travelers coming from China.
A community-transmitted case of the disease in Washington state discovered later that month has been traced by genetic sequencing to a resident who returned from Wuhan, China, in January.
Last week, Trump boasted at a press conference that the 15 domestic COVID-19 cases in the U.S. would “within a couple of days ... be down to close to zero.” He added: “That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
As of Friday, there were more than 300 confirmed cases in the U.S. in 23 states, and 14 deaths in Washington state, 1 in California and 2 in Florida.
The president later in the day during a visit to CDC headquarters in Atlanta said the tests for COVID-19 are now “all perfect — just like the “letter was perfect,” apparently referring to a phone call last July in which he pressured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into unfounded accusations against political rival Joe Biden and his son.
Initial tests for coronavirus, designed by the CDC, were defective and worked predictably in only a handful of labs, creating a dangerous backlog. The CDC until recently also only allowed use of the test on people who had recently traveled to China or who had contact with an individual with a confirmed case of the disease.
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Bloomberg he believes hundreds or thousands of Americans could already be infected, but cases are undetected because so few have been tested. South Korea has now tested about 110,000 people, while the U.S. has tested fewer than 2,000 people, The Atlantic reported Friday.
Dr. Matt McCarthy, an infectious disease expert who works as an emergency room doctor at New York-Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan, called the dearth of testing a “national scandal” that would soon morph into a “cover-up.”
Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has placed in charge of the response to coronavirus, earlier this week promised that production of tests would be ramped up. But he conceded to reporters Thursday: “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
CORRECTION: This article initially mischaracterized Lipsitch’s statement to Bloomberg as “hundreds of thousands”; he said, rather, “hundreds or thousands.”