President Donald Trump is prepared to go to great lengths to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.
Restrictions on domestic travel could be coming as the virus claims its first lives in the United States, the Washington Examiner reported Sunday. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar told CBS’s Face the Nation earlier that day that it’s not time to panic yet, but that Americans should be ready for a spectrum of responses as the Trump administration responds to the growing threat.
“The front lines”
The coronavirus has presented Donald Trump with a formidable public health challenge, as critics in the Democratic Party and the media accuse the president of downplaying and mismanaging the crisis. As of Monday, COVID-19 had claimed six American lives, with cases continuing to crop up on the West Coast, CNBC reported.
For its part, the Trump administration has sought to reassure the public that while the risk remains low, the government is ready to respond in any circumstances. Azar told CBS’s Margaret Brennan on Sunday that the Trump administration will consider a “full range” of options, including restrictions on travel within the United States.
“Right now, it’s important for people to understand, we’re not advising any types of particular measures in the United States like travel restrictions or closures,” Azar told Face the Nation, according to the Examiner. “State or local public health offices, which are the front lines of response, might make their own decisions to do that, but at this point, we do not have sufficient spread in the United States that would indicate those measures.”
Risk “remains low”
Azar’s warning comes as cases of the coronavirus with an “unknown origin” have begun surfacing in California and Washington, indicating that the virus may be spreading through community contact. Azar said at a Saturday press conference that there are no travel warnings for those states despite the mounting cases, while Trump, Mike Pence, and top health officials insisted that there was no reason to panic.
“We should anticipate more cases, but the current risk to the American public remains low,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said, according to NBC News.
Vice President Pence, who is leading the crisis response, said that the “average American” doesn’t need to buy a face mask but that the administration has millions stocked up just in case. That message of cautious optimism has been consistently echoed by Trump in his tone and in his administration’s measures to contain the virus.
The administration also announced Saturday a new slate of advisories and restrictions: travel warnings for South Korea and Italy, as well as a ban on recent visitors to Iran, NBC reported. All three countries are among the most impacted by the deadly virus, which now has infected nearly 90,000 worldwide and claimed over 3,000 lives, according to CNBC.
“A vaccine, maybe a cure”
President Trump made the early decision in January to restrict travel to China, something Democrats criticized as premature and even racist. But as the virus continues to spread, Democrats have hammered Trump for not taking it seriously enough.
Trump has, in turn, blamed Democrats and the media for stoking fear needlessly. He prompted more criticism when he called the Democrats’ response to his management of the crisis a “hoax,” leading some to falsely claim that Trump was denying that the disease is a threat, NBC noted.
Azar has said that the administration may, using war powers, mobilize medical companies in the production of protective gear to stop the spread of the disease. And while the Trump administration has said that a vaccine will not be ready in time to stave off an epidemic this season, Trump said Monday that he will meet with pharmaceutical companies Monday afternoon about finding a cure, the New York Post reported.
“We’re talking about a vaccine, maybe a cure, it’s possible, we’ll see about that,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’ve asked them to accelerate whatever they’re doing in terms of a vaccine.”