Donald Trump has retweeted a post calling for the firing of the US’s top infectious diseases expert, who argued lives could have been saved had the country shut down sooner during the coronavirus outbreak.
And a top adviser to the US president has publicly declared that some health professionals “appear tone deaf” to the risks lockdowns will have on the health of Americans.
The comments give further insight into how the Trump administration is weighing up the American economy and human health as it decides on the future of COVID-19 lockdown measures.
The US remains the worst hit place for the virus, recording more than 23,000 deaths by Tuesday morning (Australian time), including the deaths of 671 New Yorkers on Easter Sunday alone.
According to Johns Hopkins University, New York has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country in the world.
Facing criticism for his virus response – including his false comments about vaccines and comparing COVID-19 to the flu – Mr Trump appeared to try to defend himself against White House health adviser Anthony Fauci’s comments on Sunday that he acted too slowly to curb the spread.
Mr Trump circulated a tweet by former congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine, which claimed Dr Fauci had contradicted himself by telling the public on February 29 “there was nothing to worry about”.
She ended the tweet by saying “Time to #FireFauci …”
The White House has since moved to hose down speculation that Mr Trump might be about to fire Dr Fauci.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2020
“This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr Fauci,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Tuesday morning (Australian time).
Mr Gidley said Mr Trump was merely defending himself against what he considered to be unfair attacks on his coronavirus response.
“Dr Fauci has been and remains a trusted adviser to President Trump,” he said.
The controversy arose when Dr Fauci was asked on CNN’s State of the Union about a New York Times report documenting early warnings issued to the White House about the coronavirus outbreak.
The scientist acknowledged shutting down the country sooner could have saved lives, but cautioned that several factors were involved.
“Obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don’t think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor,” Dr Fauci said. “It’s very complicated.”
Meanwhile, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has said many medical experts “appear tone deaf” and have failed to account for the health effects of keeping non-essential services shut down.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr Navarro argued an extended economic shutdown could pose far greater health implications than the coronavirus itself and would lead to “very significant losses of life” and “blows to American families”.
He said “medical experts and pundits pontificating in the press” were thus “speaking only half of the medical truth without reference or regard for the other half of the equation”.
Hopeful signs emerge
New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the coronavirus death toll has topped 10,000. The milestone was reached only about a month after the US state recorded its first fatality.
The 671 new deaths on Sunday was the first time in a week the daily toll dipped below 700.
Hospitals are still getting 2000 new patients a day and people are still dying at a “horrific level of pain and grief and sorrow”, Mr Cuomo said during a state news briefing.
“This virus is very good at what it does. It is a killer,” he said.
As a hopeful sign, Mr Cuomo said the number of people hospitalised with the virus had flattened to just under 19,000.
“The worst can be over, and it is over unless we do something reckless,” Mr Cuomo said. “You can turn those numbers on two or three days of reckless behaviour.”
Across the country, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported 554,849 cases of the coronavirus and said the number of deaths had risen to 21,942.