Just before boarding Air Force One to fly to Arizona, US President Donald Trump told reporters he would wear a mask if he had to.
Key points:US President Donald Trump toured a mask factory in his first event outside Washington DC since MarchVice President Mike Pence announced the coronavirus taskforce would be winding upA whislteblower said he was pressured to use a malaria drug pushed by Mr Trump
Earlier in the day Vice-President Mike Pence had confirmed the White House coronavirus task force would start winding up, just before Mr Trump left Washington DC for his first public event outside of the White House since March.
“If it’s a mask environment, I would certainly do that,” Mr Trump told reporters.
“I would wear it. If it’s a mask environment, I would have no problem.”
While touring a factory in Arizona that is producing millions of N95 masks for the Government, Mr Trump only wore goggles.
Employees working while Mr Trump toured the Honeywell factory wore masks, and those in the audience for his address wore them too.
Reporters spotted various signs around the factory saying face masks were “required”, but a White House official later told NBC News that Honeywell told Mr Trump he did not have to wear one.
Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrapBut Mr Trump said it’s not ‘mission accomplished’ Coronavirus safety guidelines are displayed at the Honeywell International plant, which Donald Trump toured. The White House says it was told Mr Trump did not have to wear a mask.(AP: Evan Vucci)
“No, no, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it’s over. When it’s over, Jim. Mission accomplished, no I wouldn’t say that at all,” Mr Trump said when asked about winding up the task force.
“So I think that as far as the task force, Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form and that form is safety and opening and we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”
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Mr Pence said Memorial Day, May 25 (local time), would be the appropriate time to begin a “transition plan” for the White House task force that has been responsible for the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 70,000 Americans so far.
Conversations are taking place about “what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency-by-agency level,” Mr Pence said.
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“We’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan with FEMA,” he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that has played a lead role in distributing urgently needed supplies across the country.
Former US public health officials criticised the timing of the transition on social media.
Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, said the team would “keep a close eye on the data”.
She said the group was looking at outbreaks in Chicago, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa, as points of concern.
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Mr Pence said trend lines for infections in the United States were on a positive course and the country “could be in a very different place by late May or early June”.
The University of Washington’s influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Monday doubled its previous forecast for COVID-19 deaths in the United States, however, saying it now predicted the number could reach about 135,000 by early August as social-distancing measures were relaxed.
And there’s a new whistleblower Whistleblower Rick Bright says he felt political pressure to use an unproven malaria drug.(Health and Human Services)
Former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Rick Bright will testify on Capitol Hill next week.
In a whistleblower complaint released today, Dr Bright said he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed by Mr Trump.
He said the Trump administration wanted to “flood” coronavirus hotspots in New York and New Jersey with the drug.
“I witnessed Government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India, from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” Dr Bright said on Tuesday.
“Their eagerness to push blindly forward without sufficient data to put this drug into the hands of Americans was alarming to me and my fellow scientists.”
In late January, Dr Bright said he was contacted by an employee of a leading mask manufacturer about ramping up production. It was estimated that as many as 3.5 billion would be needed, while the national stockpile had about 300 million.
The complaint said that when Dr Bright tried to press the issue about masks with superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), he was ignored or rebuffed.
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“HHS publicly represented not only that COVID-19 was not an imminent threat, but also that HHS already had all the masks it would need,” the complaint said.
Dr Bright filed the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that investigates retaliation against federal employees who uncover problems. He wants his job back and a full investigation.
The Department of Health and Human Services had no immediate comment. Zachary Kurz, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, said the office could not comment on or confirm the status of open investigations.
Dr Bright will testify about his complaint before House Subcommittee on Health next Thursday (Friday AEST).
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