WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) – President Trump on Saturday announced new efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus, including new travel restrictions on visitors from Iran and further screening efforts on people coming from South Korea and Italy. Mr. Trump confirmed a person has died of COVID-19 in Washington state.
Mr. Trump said in his conference that there were 22 known cases of coronavirus in the U.S. The death in Washington is the first reported coronavirus death in the United States. Mr. Trump described the person who died as a “wonderful woman” and “a medically high-risk patient in her late fifties.”
Mr. Trump also said that experts in the administration “have been working round the clock, so hard on the coronavirus.”
“It’s a tough one, but a lot of progress has been made,” Mr. Trump said. The president also said that the White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, met on Saturday.
Pence said that the president authorized action for expanding additional travel restrictions on Iran, and for increasing the advisory for Americans to not travel to specific regions in Italy and South Korea most affected by the coronavirus. Pence also said that the task force would be working with Congress to provide supplemental funding to respond to the coronavirus, and added that “the average American does not need to go out and buy a mask.”
Mr. Trump added that he would be meeting with the largest pharmaceutical companies “in the world” to discuss a potential vaccine on Monday.
Mr. Trump took a veiled shot at the press for not doing more to report what he described as a very strong response to the coronavirus.
“We’re doing really well. Very, very professionally handled,” Mr. Trump said. “We will respectfully ask the media and politicians and everyone involved not to do anything to incite a panic.”
Trump also said that he did not regret using the word “hoax” in the context of the coronavirus response at a rally in South Carolina Friday.
“Hoax referred to the action that they take to try to pin this on somebody because we’ve done such a good job,” Mr. Trump said, accusing Democrats of politicizing coronavirus.
Mr. Trump also said that he was considering closing the southern border in response to the spread of the virus.
“Yes, we are thinking about the southern border. We are looking at that very strongly,” Mr. Trump said. He did not mention closing the northern border with Canada. However, he later said the southern border “is not a border that seems to be much of a problem right now.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar emphasized that “the risk remains low” to the average American. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said: “the country as a whole still remains at a low risk but this remains an evolving situation.” Fauci said that 15 to 20% of those who contract coronavirus will need hospitalization, and the vast majority of people who “get into trouble” are of advanced age or have previous underlying conditions.
Fauci also shot down reports of people becoming re-infected with coronavirus, saying there is “no indication that that’s going on at all.”
After the press conference, Mr. Trump will head to speak at the national gathering of conservatives in Washington.
Since the president made his initial remarks on coronavirus, a Health and Human Services whistleblower alleged that more than a dozen health workers were sent to aid with evacuees from China without proper training or appropriate protective gear.
The White House also announced Friday that a planned meeting of ASEAN leaders scheduled for March in Las Vegas would be canceled amid coronavirus concerns.
On Wednesday, the president announced he would put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of efforts to tackle the coronavirus, as the administration seeks to reassure the public and the markets amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned Americans to prepare for disruptions to their lives and said the spread of the virus in the country is not a matter of if, but when. Mr. Trump appeared to disagree with that assessment, saying, “I don’t think it’s inevitable,” though he added, “It possibly will. It could be at a very small level or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.”
Azar remains the head of the president’s coronavirus task force, but Pence said the administration would add personnel to the White House to address the outbreak, and work closely with Congress to address the situation.