May 6, 2020 / 8:15 PM / 21 days ago

Trump says coronavirus task force to shift focus, drawing Pelosi criticism

(Adds Pelosi, Minnesota data, Los Angeles flower market)

By Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his coronavirus task force would shift its focus to reviving U.S. business and social life, prompting the top Democrat in Congress to warn that ignoring science and the need for more testing would put Americans at risk.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Trump said that because of its success, “the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate.”

He added: “The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”

The task force to date has included medical professionals focused on battling the pandemic, some of whom have at times offered guidance at odds with Trump’s, including on when to ease stay-at-home orders and lockdowns on the economy.

White House guidelines say that the number of new cases must be trending downward for 14 days and that vastly expanded coronavirus testing and other safeguards must be put in place before the shutdowns can be phased out.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she did not believe the Republican Trump should pivot to reopening at the expense of emphasizing the need for more testing.

“If you undermine science, if you underfund testing, if you exaggerate the opportunity that is out there for the economy at the risk of people dying, that’s not a plan,” Pelosi told MSNBC.

“Death is not an economic motivator, stimulus. So why are we going down that path?”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and most high-profile member of the task force, acknowledged in a CNN interview that he was losing the argument against reopening the country too quickly.

“There are counties and cities in which you can do that safely now, but there are others that if you do that, it’s really dangerous,” he said on Tuesday night.

Trump told reporters he would announce new members of his task force by Monday.

A number of U.S. states saw a record increase in cases on Tuesday, including Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin. Minnesota has set a new record for cases nine out of the last 14 days, including 728 new cases on Wednesday.

More than 71,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and more than 1.2 million people have been infected, according to a Reuters tally.

The Republican Trump administration and many state governors have emphasized the political and social pressures they face getting the U.S. economy going again.

ADP National Employment Report data on Wednesday showed that U.S. private employers laid off a record 20.236 million workers in April, suggesting the lockdowns could leave lasting scars on the economy.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

State governors who have started lifting restrictions have said business reopenings will be gradual and that people should continue to observe social distancing and other guidelines.

But the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has clashed with Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp over his moves to reopen, said she saw people partying and celebrating on the annual Cinco de Mayo holiday on Tuesday.

“It was disappointing. And what was very clear was that people didn’t get anything past the message that we were open up for business,” she told CNN on Wednesday.

“They didn’t get to the part that said that this was still a deadly virus and that you needed to continue to socially distance and wear masks, and I think that’s the shortcoming of this order.”

Democratic governors of states hardest hit by the outbreak have at times been at odds with the Republican Trump over easing restrictions.

But even California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced plans to relax some restrictions if the data continues to see improvement.

Los Angeles’ downtown flower market opened on Wednesday for the first time since the shutdown after the city’s mayor gave some businesses the green light.

“It’s good that the stores are reopening. I have two kids. It has been hard,” said florist Gregorio Garcia, 35, as he pruned pink roses inside his small open-front store.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose city has been the hardest hit in the country, said that he was hopeful the city had turned the corner but did not expect to reopen until September after shutting down with the rest of the state on March 20.

“My message to the rest of the country is: learn from how much effort, how much discipline it took to finally bring these numbers down and follow the same path until you’re sure that it’s being beaten back,” de Blasio told CNN.

“Or else, if this thing boomerangs, you’re putting off any kind of restart or recovery a hell of a lot longer.”

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