President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the U.S. government response to coronavirus, after days of mixed messages from his administration about the threat to Americans.
Trump told reporters at a news conference Wednesday evening he was not labeling Pence a “czar.”
“Mike will be working with the professionals, the doctors and everybody else that’s working,” Trump said. “The team is brilliant.”
The announcement came following days of sending mixed messages on the risk the coronavirus poses to the United States.
At a rare appearance in the White House’s briefing room, the president and his team sought to allay worries about the coronavirus, called COVID-19, repeatedly saying that the risk to Americans remains low but still urging people to prepare.
“I think every aspect of our society should be prepared,” including schools, he said, “just in case.” But, he added, “We don’t think we’ll be there.”
“This will end,” he said.
Trump noted that tens of thousands of people in the United States die every year from influenza, and that coronavirus — so far — had not nearly approached that level.
“You don’t want to see panic, because there’s no reason to be panicked about it,” Trump said.
“There’s a chance it won’t spread, too. And there’s a chance it will.”
The question, he said, was “at what level” it would.
Because of the steps the administration had already taken — including strict travel restrictions on travelers who have recently visited China, the center of the outbreak — Trump said, “The risk to the American people remains very low.”
“The number one priority from our standpoint is the health and safety of the American people,” he said.
Trump said that it was “not the right time” to impose additional restrictions on entry to the United States — although he noted, “we may do that.”
China has imposed severe restrictions on large areas, like the city of Wuhan, and Trump told ABC News’ Karen Travers that the United States did have plans for quarantining cities “on a larger scale, if we need it.”
But, he added, “We don’t think we’re going to need it.”
Pence noted that “the threat to the American public remains low,” telling reporters that he would coordinate the overall response and that additional personnel would be added at the White House.
“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and health of the American people. We’ll also be continuing to reach out to governors, state and local officials,” Pence said. “We will be working with them in renewed ways to make sure they have the resources to be able to respond.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has been leading a coronavirus task force the president set up, said he was happy to have the support from Pence — who he said would focus on inter-agency coordination — and echoed Trump’s comments that what the U.S. government has already been doing has worked.
Azar warned, though, that the number of cases would go up.
“The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly,” Azar said. “And we can expect to see more cases in the United States. That is why we’ve been reminding the American public and our state, local and private sector partners that they should be aware of what a broader response would look like.”
The president and his team clearly tried to calm fears, a day after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official had warned Americans of “significant disruption” coming because of the virus.
You can read the rest of Libby Cathey and Ben Gittleson’s article at ABCnews.com