President Donald Trump boasted about the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border as he spoke about the threat of the new coronavirus on Friday, saying at a rally: “Border security is also health security.”
Health experts told HuffPost a wall at the southern border is in no way related to preventing the spread of the virus in the U.S.
“We must understand that border security is also health security,” the president said to cheers from the crowd at a reelection campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, one day before the Democratic primary in the state.
“You’ve all seen the wall is going up like magic,” he continued, saying they’d “have 500 miles built by very early next year.”
“We will do everything in our power to keep the infection from entering our country. We have no choice,” Trump said. “Whether it’s the virus that we’re talking about or many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans… Now you see it with the coronavirus.”
“When you have this virus... or any other problem coming in. It’s not the only thing that comes through the border,” Trump said. “And now just using this — so important, right? So important.”
Dr. Celine Gounder — a clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases at New York University and host of the podcast “Epidemic” — said Trump’s remarks “show a real lack of understanding on the way diseases spread.”
“Walls are not going to keep [the virus] out,” Gounder said, noting there were already two cases in California in which those infected had not traveled to any countries experiencing an outbreak or been in contact with anyone known to be infected — meaning these could be the first cases of “community spread” of the virus in the United States.
“There’s no point with approaching this as a borders issue,” Gounder said. “It’s here.”
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that the coronavirus threat was “not related to the wall being built at the U.S. southern border.”
The White House did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s question as to whether Trump thinks building a border wall is related to preventing the spread of coronavirus.
As of Friday, there were more than 60 confirmed cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, or the disease caused by the virus, in the U.S. — mostly of people repatriated to the U.S. from other countries. The World Health Organization on Friday raised its risk assessment of the coronavirus outbreak at a global level to “very high.″
Far-right politicians in Europe, including Italy’s Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen, have also been exploiting people’s fear and uncertainty around the virus to advocate for closed borders and anti-immigration policies.
Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, called this week for defunding Trump’s border wall and instead using the money for the Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to combat the virus.
At the rally Friday, Trump insisted that his administration is “prepared for the absolute worst” and taking the coronavirus threat “very, very seriously.”
As the president frequently does at his campaign rallies, Trump repeatedly attacked the news media as “fake news,” and claimed the press was “in hysteria mode” in reporting on the virus.
The president also claimed that “the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus.”
“One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax,’” Trump said. “This is their new hoax,” he added, apparently in reference to Democrats’ criticisms of his administration’s response to the virus.
Similarly, this week, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed the media was covering the coronavirus outbreak only because it’s “all about” damaging Trump.
At the start of his rally, Trump boasted about the U.S. economy, calling it a “great American comeback” and touting how “jobs are soaring” and “confidence is surging.” Global markets fell dramatically this week amid concerns about the coronavirus’s spread worldwide.