Instead, the panel of administration doctors and public health experts that once convened daily and regularly updated the President on the disease have been relegated to meeting once or twice a week, and their engagement with Trump has diminished.The administration’s own social distancing and mask wearing guidance that was once broadcast from the White House podium has gone quiet.And the President himself remains insistent on demonstrating the country is on track to return to normal, scheduling campaign rallies and in-person fundraisers even in places where cases are again ticking upward.White House staff received an email on Thursday about making a “gradual” return to campus, according to an email viewed by CNN. Read More”We are excited to begin the gradual, safe return of staff to the EOP Campus,” the email from the White House management office read. It instructed stuff to contact their direct supervisors about when they’ll return to campus and how. Long intent on resuming life as it was before — and equally intent on returning to a state of economic growth — Trump has shown through his actions and words he is ready to move past the worst health crisis in generations, even as the virus itself refuses to subside.”I think it’s really good, and we’re on our way to a very big comeback,” Trump said on Wednesday, referring to a strong day on Wall Street and a shock jobs report last week showing 2.5 million new payrolls added in May.But a day later, stocks were tumbling again and the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic were evident –in a way reminiscent of the outbreak’s earliest days, when quadruple-digit losses on the Dow sent Trump into fits of rage and he demanded more be done to address the situation.Mnuchin says 'we can't shut down the economy again' regardless of rising coronavirus casesSpeaking on CNBC on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said even an increase in cases would not likely lead to another national shutdown.”We can’t shut down the economy again. I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage,” he said.Since Memorial Day, more than a dozen states have recorded spikes in hospitalizations, according to data from CNN aggregated from the Covid Tracking Project. Infections are rising in 18 states, according to CNN data. The virus is steady in nine states and down in 21.Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany attributed the rise in new cases to increased testing.”The more testing you do, the more cases you identify,” she said, insisting that “there was no linkage to Memorial Day as being some point of spurring wild outbreaks and rises across the nation.”Other administration officials, however, said gatherings over Memorial Day and loosened social distancing in the weeks since could also have contributed to an increase in infections and that it was too early to definitively identify a cause.Even as cases rise, an administration official familiar with discussions inside the coronavirus task force said the panel remains sidelined and muzzled. Key members l — such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Robert Redfield — are now far less visible than they were during the early weeks of the pandemic.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, requested a briefing next week from top administration public health officials, including Fauci and Birx, on recent coronavirus spikes in states around the country.”As the President continues to fixate on the stock market and Senate Republicans are ready to prematurely declare victory, we need to wrest the focus back to these crucial issues,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor.Shortly after Trump’s controversial comments in April suggesting that Americans could inject themselves with disinfectants and sunlight to ward off the virus, task force members were led to believe the panel’s news conferences and briefings with reporters would eventually make a comeback, the official said. Instead, those briefings to the public have been scrapped as Trump turned his focus to reopening the economy. “Somebody put the kibosh on that,” the official said about the idea of returning to regular news conferences on the virus. Birx, who was detailed from the State Department to coordinate the administration’s coronavirus response, maintains her office in the West Wing and continues to update senior administration officials on case counts and other metrics, but her public appearances have been curtailed.Asked if Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was in regular communication with the President, a federal health official with knowledge of the matter told CNN Redfield calls the White House “almost daily.” The official did not know when the last time Redfield spoke directly to the President.Fauci, whose evolving public presence and relationship with Trump both became objects of intense fascination during the pandemic, appeared on a network morning show this week but has otherwise been far less visible — including in the West Wing, where he now only ventures when there are coronavirus task force meetings.Trump is getting his reopening even as the virus takes another swipe Those meetings had tapered off to once a week for the past three weeks, a sharp decrease from March and April when the task force met daily, including on weekends. This week, the task force convened twice, including during a 2:30 p.m. ET session on Thursday in the White House Situation Room.Following Thursday’s meeting, a senior administration official told CNN that this week’s discussions have been focused on “opening up school campuses across the country.” Last week, the task force was focused on “driving home the message that states need to be testing senior citizens and the elderly in nursing homes,” the official said.Pushing back on reports that Trump has shifted his focus to reopening the economy and to his reelection campaign, the senior official said it was “made pretty clear” that the panel “has a new focus.””So when you say the President has shifted reopening, that’s part of the new task force focus. Its about therapeutics. It’s vaccines.”It’s about the future,” the senior administration official said.Senior administration officials insist the task force doesn’t require daily meetings to keep up its work, and have said individual agencies that are represented on the panel — including the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation and Homeland Security — are continuing their work to address the outbreak.A Tuesday meeting of the task force included a discussion of new outbreaks and a presentation on vaccine research by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to a person familiar with the proceedings. The group also discussed the potential for contagion during ongoing protests related to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.But the person also said the task force meetings have become less focused on one or two major issues, which was the norm when the group was meeting daily and addressing the most pressing matters as they came in.In Tuesday’s meeting, Adm. Brett Giroir, who has led testing efforts for the task force, told other members of the panel that at least 70 coronavirus testing sites were “shut down” amid protests, some of which turned violent, according to a spokesman for the task force.The CDC told CNN the agency along with its federal partners are closely monitoring the demonstrations happening across America. “Protests and large gatherings make it difficult to maintain our recommended social distancing guidelines and may put others at risk,” a CDC spokesperson said via email.The CDC said it is still too early to know what, if any, effect the George Floyd demonstrations will have on the federal Covid-19 response. Asked this week about scenes of massive demonstrations for Floyd across the country during the pandemic, a federal health official said it was “apparent that a growing segment of society is ready to move on at any cost.” “Americans are ready to get on with their lives,” the official said. “We in public health will be remiss if we don’t acknowledge that people are ready to move on, and we have to adapt our messaging.”One American who appears particularly ready to get on with his life is Trump, who will spend his first weekend since the start of the pandemic at one of his golf resorts starting Thursday evening. Already, the pandemic has interrupted his plans to convene the Republican National Convention in North Carolina, whose governor demanded some mitigation efforts be in place during the gathering. Trump — who refuses to wear a mask in public and has criticized governors for opening too slowly — balked, and will host the celebration elsewhere.After months without any campaign events, Trump resumes in-person fundraising on Thursday in Texas. And he announced this week he will convene his first campaign rally next Friday in Oklahoma.Yet the location of Trump’s rally, Tulsa, has seen a surge in new cases. And Dallas, where he visits on Thursday, has reported a record number of cases this week.And Pence, the task force leader, openly flouted CDC guidelines on Wednesday, posting a photo with a large group of tightly clustered campaign staff at headquarters with no masks. The cap on gatherings is 10 people in Virginia. The tweet has since been deleted. But Pence will commence a “Great American Comeback Tour” on Friday in Pennsylvania.Asked whether it’s risky for Trump to hold a rally with thousands of supporters in the middle of a pandemic, a senior administration official responded only: “You know the answer to that.”This story has been updated with further comments.
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