Oversight

Lawmakers probe disconnect between Trump and top officials on COVID-19

Coronavirus COVID-19 under the microscope. 3d illustration By Andrii Vodolazhskyi shutterstock ID: 1643947495

As the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads across the U.S., lawmakers and health experts have expressed alarm that the Trump administration isn't taking the global outbreak seriously, even as 10 people in the U.S. have died as of March 5.

During a March 4 interview on Fox News, President Donald Trump appeared to downplay the severity of the disease, comparing it to seasonal flu.

"This is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations ... a lot of people will have [the coronavirus] and it's very mild," Trump told host Sean Hannity. "They will get better very rapidly. They don't even see a doctor. If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work -- some of them go to work, but they get better … relatively quickly. It's not that severe."

The head of the World Health Organization said that the coronavirus carries a 3.4% death rate, a statistic Trump derided.

"I think the 3.4 is really a false number," he said.

In a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing the next day, Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) expressed his trepidation at the president's remarks.

"Last night the president was being interviewed, and some of the comments that he made has caused some confusion," he said, addressing Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It says [on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website] that if you're sick, to keep from spreading a respiratory illness, you should stay at home when sick. Is that accurate, you should stay at home when sick?"

Kadlec said yes, adding that the CDC's suggestion for anyone experiencing respiratory illness or flu was to stay home and self-quarantine.

At a March 5 press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Heath, told reporters, "I don't think I'm being countermanded" by Trump's utterances.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for Health at HHS, deflected questions about the particulars of Trump's tweets and remarks and said, "for the best guidelines of what people should do, go to CDC.gov."

CDC guidance urges people with coronavirus who don't need hospitalization to self-quarantine for at least two weeks.

The Senate hearing comes as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society announced it had cancelled its annual conference in Orlando over COVID-19 worries. Trump was scheduled to speak at that conference.

On Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management released detailed guidelines as federal agencies continue to brace for a potential outbreak. One Department of Homeland Security office in Washington state closed for a self-imposed two-week quarantine after an employee visited a family member at a nursing home effected by the virus and tested positive.

Trump derided the alarm over the coronavirus, calling it a Democratic Party conspiracy.

"The Democrats weaponize the virus against the Trump administration. They weaponize anything we do. And yet, if they did it, they'd be, you know, hailing it," the president told Hannity. "Even when you look at the small numbers that we're talking about within this country, they're very, very small. I mean, we have a very large country, to put it mildly, and a great country, by the way. And it's getting greater all the time."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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