The New York Times reported Tuesday the task force would wind down in the coming weeks, even as the pandemic worsens in parts of the country.
Update (May 6, 11:30 a.m. ET): President Trump announced via Twitter Wednesday morning that his coronavirus task force will “continue on indefinitely.” Going forward, he added, the team will focus on “safety and opening our country again,” with an emphasis on “vaccines and therapeutics.”
The Trump administration plans to wind down its coronavirus task force in the coming weeks, even as the pandemic worsens in most of the country, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported Tuesday.
It’s unclear whether any other group will replace the task force, which sought to lead the federal government’s response to the pandemic. That response, of course, has been the subject of enormous criticism from public health experts, governors, mayors, teachers, and front line medical workers, who have criticised the Trump administration for failing to provide leadership and distribute a reliable supply of coronavirus tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other medical equipment.
The task force has frequently been beset by chaos, as Trump quickly ousted Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II as the leader of the group in late February and replaced him with Vice President Mike Pence. Trump has also repeatedly ignored the advice of public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, and instead pressured states to reopen businesses, even though such reopenings go against his administration’s own guidelines.
The Times reports that a top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence told senior officials involved in the task force to expect the group to finish up its work within weeks. Other White House officials have echoed a similar timeline, according to the Times.
If the task force does indeed cease work, it would come despite the fact that the coronavirus continues to spread in most of the country. At least 1,000 people, and sometimes more than 2,000, have died of COVID-19 every day for the past month, and many regions of the country continue to see steady growth in cases. Several projections indicate that deaths will continue apace for months, and could increase as states ease their restrictions.
One projection shared within the administration and reported on by the Times on Monday estimated that the number of coronavirus deaths could reach about 3,000 daily deaths on June 1—nearly double the current level. More than 1.1 million Americans have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 70,000 have died of the virus.
A senior administration official, speaking anonymously, told the Times that the task force will be winding down as the White House moves toward Phase One of Trump’s plan to “open up” the country. The administration’s focus will now shift to therapeutics, vaccine development, and testing, the official said. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the record.
An unofficial coronavirus-focused working group led by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is expected to continue working, but that effort has had its own issues, as it has relied in part on volunteers from consulting private equity firms with little knowledge of how to handle public health problems.
Kushner’s group was so incompetent that one of its own volunteers filed a complaint last month with the House Oversight Committee, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Key elements of the complaint, which were confirmed by six administration officials and one outside adviser to the effort, allege that the team responsible for obtaining PPE largely failed to do so, in part because none of the team’s members had significant experience in health care, procurement, or supply-chain operations. The complaint also alleges that none of the volunteers had any existing relationships with manufacturers or an understanding of customs requirements or Food and Drug Administration rules.
“Americans are facing a crisis of tragic proportions and there is an urgent need for an effective, efficient and bold response,” reads the complaint, which was sent to the committee on April 8. “From my few weeks as a volunteer, I believe we are falling short. I am writing to alert my representatives of these challenges and to ask that they do everything possible to help front-line health-care workers and other Americans in need.”
With Tuesday’s report that the official coronavirus task force may be shuttered soon, it seems as if the Trump administration no longer sees it as its responsibility to lead the fight in helping those Americans in need.