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May 7, 2020

Trump: Coronavirus task force to 'continue … indefinitely,' but will shift focus to reopening

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    In a series of tweets on Wednesday, President Trump appeared to walk back a plan announced Tuesday to soon disband the White House's coronavirus task force, writing that the task force "will continue on indefinitely."

    Today at 1 p.m. ET: Your 45-minute Covid-19 weekly update

    US Covid-19 cases slowing in urban areas—but rising in rural areas

    Trump's comments come as U.S. officials as of Thursday reported 1,235,200 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus—up from 1,210,700 cases as of Wednesday morning.

    Carrie Henning-Smith, a rural health researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said the data indicates the daily rate of newly reported Covid-19 cases is slowing in New York City and other urban areas of the country, which are now beyond their Covid-19 peaks. However, she said data shows that rural areas of the country are beginning to see increases in their daily rates of newly reported cases.

    For instance, the Kaiser Family Foundation in a brief published last week found that although the total number of Covid-19 cases remains lower in rural areas when compared with U.S. cities, newly reported cases are growing at a faster rate in rural regions of the country than in U.S. cities.

    The researchers also found that the number reported deaths tied to the new coronavirus increased by 169% in non-metro counties during that period, compared with a 113% increase in metro counties.

    As of Thursday morning, officials had reported a total of 73,549 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 71,077 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.

    Trump says White House's coronavirus task force 'will continue on indefinitely'

    While the numbers of Covid-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the United States, Trump and Vice President Pence on Tuesday announced preliminary plans to phase out the White House's coronavirus task force over the coming weeks, as the administration begins to shift its focus from responding to the country's Covid-19 epidemic to ramping up the nation's economy.

    Pence on Tuesday said the administration was working on a timeline for phasing out the task force with a potential end date in late May or early June. Pence said the administration's senior aides had been discussing shifting the task force's responsibilities to individual federal agencies and departments, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Pence said has been coordinating the administration's response to the epidemic since mid-March.

    Likewise, Trump during a trip to Arizona on Tuesday confirmed the administration's plans to disband the task force and said his administration was considering establishing a new group focused on "safety and opening." Trump said, "We can't keep our country closed."

    However, Trump in a series of tweets posted Wednesday praised the task force and appeared to walk back his administration's plan to disband the group. Trump wrote that the task force "has done a fantastic job of bringing together vast highly complex resources that have set a high standard for others to follow in the future." He continued, "Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN."

    Trump also wrote that the makeup of the task force could change. "We may add or subtract people to [the task force] as appropriate," Trump wrote, adding that the task force going forward will "be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics."

    According to the Washington Post, Trump, while in the Oval Office on Wednesday after signing a proclamation to honor nurses, said he thought his administration could "wind [the task force] down sooner," but he "had no idea how popular the task force" was until Tuesday—when he had first mentioned in public that he was planning to disband it. Trump said the task force "is appreciated by the public."

    Trump reiterated that the task force will become "very focused" on the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus and treatments for Covid-19, and said he plans to announce "two or three new members to the task force" as early as Monday (Winfield Cunningham, "PowerPost," Washington Post, 5/6; Miller et al., Associated Press, 5/6; Zapotosky/Wagner, Washington Post, 5/6; Shabad, NBC News, 5/6; New York Times, 5/4; Trump tweets, 5/6).

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