Pence was pressed during an appearance on CNN by politics anchor Wolf Blitzer to explain why Trump hadn’t ordered a national lockdown in the days since he had stopped “belittling the enormity of this crisis.” New White House projections, Blitzer noted, suggest as many as 200,000 people may die from COVID-19 in the U.S. if the current state-by-state advisories and restrictions are maintained.
Pence rejected the criticism.
“I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” Pence said, adding: “He expressed gratitude and confidence in health care workers in this country, and the American people can be assured President Trump is going to continue to be confident that we will meet this moment.”
Trump, however, has repeatedly contradicted public health officials about the threat of the coronavirus. Even this week, after acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic, he has attacked state governors asking for equipment and suggested that hospital staffers are squandering masks or stealing them “out the back door.”
Earlier, the president repeatedly compared the outbreak to the seasonal flu, which has a much lower fatality rate and is much less contagious.
“We lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off,” Trump said at a briefing last week when he argued for a loosening of national social distancing guidelines. He went on: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies and say, ‘Stop making cars.’”
He also shrugged off the coronavirus in a tweet earlier this month, two days before the World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak a pandemic.
Blitzer confronted Pence with Trump’s remarks, but the vice president stuck to his talking points.
“The president is an optimistic person,” Pence responded. “We’ve been from the very beginning ― when the president suspended all travel from China, stood up the White House coronavirus task force in January ― we have been hoping for the best but planning for the worst. And that’s been being worked out every single day. And what the American people can see in this president every day is a leader who knows that we will get through this.”
But health care workers say the U.S. medical system is not at all prepared for the worst and that they’re facing a deadly shortage of protective gear, ventilators and other items necessary to treat COVID-19 patients.
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