President Donald Trump says he refuses to have another lockdown as coronavirus cases surge across the country, but he suggested one could be in the offing should he lose his legal challenges to overcome his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump, who spoke publicly Friday for the first time since his defeat, repeated his long-held argument that government restrictions meant to stem the virus cause more problems than they solve. But Trump, who has refused to concede his election loss, made clear the decision might not be up to him.
“This administration will not be going to a lockdown,” he said. “Hopefully whatever happens in the future, who knows, which administration it will be, I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown.”
Biden, to be certain, has not said whether he would order a lockdown.
In the week since he defeated Trump, Biden has devoted most of his public remarks to encouraging Americans to wear a mask and view the coronavirus as a threat that has no regard for political ideology.
Trump on Friday hailed developments in the race for a vaccine for the resurgent coronavirus.
Trump spoke from the Rose Garden as the nation sets records for confirmed cases of COVID-19, and as hospitalizations near critical levels and fatalities climb to the highest levels since the spring. He said a vaccine would ship in “a matter of weeks” to vulnerable populations, though the Food and Drug Administration has not yet been asked to grant the necessary emergency approvals. In addition, there’s no information yet as to whether the vaccine worked in vulnerable populations or only in younger, healthier study volunteers.
Public health experts worry that Trump’s refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation’s ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.
Earlier Friday, the president reportedly dropped his lawsuit in Arizona that was seeking a review of all the ballots cast in last week’s election.
Speculation continues to swirl about whether the Republican president will soon concede the race to Democrat Joe Biden, who has been projected to win the White House by virtually every major news outlet.
Trump is scheduled to make one of his first official appearances since last week’s election at 4 p.m. Friday, in what the White House is calling as an update on Operation Warp Speed, his administration’s effort to speed a coronavirus vaccine to the American public as soon as possible.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that Trump is “not even at that point yet” when it comes to conceding to Biden. McEnany told Fox Business News that Trump believes he will be president and have a second term.
Trump received a briefing on Operation Warp Speed earlier Friday. The briefing occurred one day after the U.S. set a single-day record of more than 160,000 coronavirus cases.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force held its first post-election meeting Monday. Officials discussed the rising case numbers and the promise of a vaccine in development by Pfizer, and they recognized the service of Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, a member of the task force who retired Monday.
Trump hasn’t answered questions since before Election Day.
White House officials declined to comment Thursday on when Trump last engaged with members of the coronavirus task force but insisted he remains focused on the pandemic.
“The president is regularly briefed about the coronavirus,” said White House spokesperson Sarah Matthews. “The relevant information is brought to him on the big decisions, and then he moves forward in the way that’s best for our country.”
In the closing days of the campaign, Trump sought to reassure Americans the country was “rounding the corner” on the virus, and he predicted Democrats' focus on the disease would go away right after the election.
Biden, for his part, largely framed the election as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. He has made addressing the virus his top priority as he moves forward with his transition. He spoke by phone Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about the intensifying pandemic and prospects for passage of a COVID-19 relief bill in the lame duck session of Congress.
Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden will appoint a “COVID coordinator” who will lead the administration’s pandemic response. Klain, speaking on MSNBC on Thursday night, said the individual will have “direct access” to the president and will brief him daily on the pandemic. A team of people underneath the coordinator will supervise vaccine distribution, address supply chain disruptions and improve access to testing.
Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University’s law school, said Biden will only be able to “scratch the surface” of tackling a pandemic that could be a “raging forest fire” by the time he takes office Jan. 20.
He added that even the good news on Pfizer’s development of a vaccine that showed 90% efficacy in early trial results could be diminished if Trump doesn’t begin coordination efforts with Biden’s team on how to roll out the vaccine. Some public health experts believe the task of persuading Americans to take the vaccine and widely distributing it could be as complicated as the vaccine’s development.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows tested positive last week after attending an Election Night party at the White House. Others at the party also have tested positive, including White House political director Brian Jack, former White House aide Healy Baumgardner and Trump campaign advisers David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski said Thursday he believes he contracted the virus in Philadelphia while assisting the president’s election challenge there.
Trump’s aggressive travel despite the virus has taken its toll on his protectors as well. The U.S. Secret Service is experiencing a significant number of cases, many believed to be linked to his rallies in the closing days of the campaign, according to one official.
The U.S. set another record Thursday in the number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 160,000 new cases reported.
The data was compiled by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which has been tracking the pandemic’s spread since it began.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also set a record Thursday, climbing to 67,096, according to the COVID Tracking Project. It was the third straight day of record numbers. Deaths are rising, too, with more than 1,000 on average each day.
The virus is blamed for more than 242,000 deaths and more than 10.5 million confirmed infections in the U.S., with the country facing what health experts say will be a dark winter because of disregard for mask-wearing and other precautions, the onset of cold weather and crowded holiday gatherings.
Deaths per day in the U.S. have soared more than 40% during the last two weeks, from an average of about 790 to more than 1,100 as of Wednesday, the highest level in three months.
That is still well below the peak of about 2,200 deaths per day in late April, in what may reflect the availability of better treatments and the increased share of cases among young people, who are more likely than older ones to survive a bout with COVID-19.