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White House insists coronavirus is ‘a priority’ as Trump prepares for rally

A man holds a flag with the image of U.S. President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., on Friday, June 19, 2020.

Matthew Hatcher | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The White House insisted Friday that Covid-19 is “still a priority” for the administration, even as President Donald Trump prepares for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma that could spread the disease.

During a White House press briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked by a reporter whether the virus was a priority after Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that he hadn’t spoken to the president in two weeks.

“Absolutely it’s still a priority,” McEnany said. “It’s why the task force meets regularly, the president is given that information. The vice president has been leading on the task force and the president ultimately makes the decisions and is constantly kept up to date with the latest numbers.”

The White House coronavirus task force last held a public briefing on the virus on April 27, 53 days ago. White House task force meetings still take place but are less frequent and closed to the press.

McEnany said Friday that the task force doesn’t hold public briefings anymore because updates on the virus are “regular routine.”

The task force briefings “happened in the very early days of Covid-19, the pandemic. We were making major decisions on travel bans, major decisions on supplies, PPE and therapeutics. It was very important those decisions be made with the nation,” she said.

“We’re in a more regular routine where when we see a spike or an ember as the president calls them we’re able to quickly go and put it out and we have that system in place,” she added. 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during the Trump administration, warned on Thursday that that this is not the case. He said several states in the South and West are “on the cusp of losing control.” 

As coronavirus cases begin to rise in nearly two dozen states, public health experts and infectious disease specialists say a strong, coordinated message on the virus from Trump and the White House is more important than ever.

Yet, in recent weeks, Trump has shifted his focus to reopening the economy, police reform and the November election. 

He is scheduled to hold a rally Saturday in Tulsa, which is expected to attract thousands of attendees packed inside a convention center. The campaign is doing temperature checks for attendees and providing them with masks and hand sanitizer upon entry, but public health officials worry the event still isn’t safe. The campaign didn’t say whether social distancing measures would be implemented, but it said wearing masks would be optional. 

Trump has also continued to play down the threat of the virus. He said on Fox News on Wednesday night that “it’s going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice.” He also told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Thursday that the U.S. is nearing the end of the pandemic, contrary to experts in his own administration.  

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence, chair of the White House coronavirus task force, said in an op-ed in the Journal that Covid-19 cases have stabilized, and he touted the U.S. response to the virus as a “cause for celebration.”

Cases are on the rise, however, and public health experts fear a slow burn of infection through the summer could lead to a massive resurgence this fall.

—CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.

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