Coronavirus government response: WH mitigation guidelines expire, Pence wears a mask

With the White House coronavirus social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday, President Donald Trump says he’s eager to return to hosting mega rallies and attending sporting events, and more governors are looking to lift restrictions before the weekend.

“We’re gonna start to move around, and hopefully in the not too distant future, we’ll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other,” Trump said Wednesday at an event on “Opening Up America Again.”

The president continued a pattern on Thursday of not having an official coronavirus task force briefing but using other scheduled appearances to take questions and tout his administration’s response to the pandemic.

His push for a reopening comes as the country’s economy sees its largest decline since the Great Recession and unemployment claims breaking records — and as a November presidential election approaches.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence visited his home state of Indiana to tour a General Motors facility in Kokomo and was photographed for the first time wearing a mask — after receiving widespread backlash for not wearing one during a visit to the Mayo Clinic Tuesday.

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Here are Thursday’s most significant developments in Washington:

  • The White House social distancing guidelines, initially enacted for 15 days and extended for another 30, are set to expire today
  • Pence travels to his home state of Indiana to visit a General Motors plant, wears a mask after receiving backlash for not wearing one at Mayo Clinic
  • Trump met with Democratic Gov. of New Jersey Phil Murphy in the Oval Office this morning
  • Fauci says a vaccine could come as early as January, one day after saying the drug remdesivir shows promise in treatment
  • Trump says virus ‘is going away’ and that he sees ‘new normal being what it was three months ago’
  • Here are the latest developments in the government response:

    VP Pence wears a mask for the first time in public during tour of ventilator facility

    Vice President Mike Pence wore a face mask and protective goggles for the first time in public on Thursday, while touring a ventilator facility in his home state of Indiana, after he faced backlash for not wearing one at the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday.

    The vice president’s wife, Karen Pence, told Fox News Thursday morning that he wasn’t aware of the policy at the time of his visit to Mayo, although the clinic tweeted Tuesday that they “had informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival.”

    The vice president on Tuesday defended his lack of a mask, saying he wanted “to look them in the eye and say thank you” and that he gets tested on a “regular basis.”

    When reporters followed up on Thursday, Pence’s chief of staff said that the vice president is tested more than once a week, on a varying schedule.

    — ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Ben Gittleson

    Trump touts ‘spectacular job’ of federal response, New Jersey Gov. Murphy says his state needs billions in federal aid to keep essential workers on payroll

    President Trump met with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey in the Oval Office Thursday morning, his third meeting with a governor this week, as Trump starts to shift his message from grim health statistics to economic recovery and puts pressure on some governors to lift restrictions in their states.

    The president continued to tout his administration’s response after saying on Wednesday the U.S. has become the “king of ventilators.”

    “The federal government has done a spectacular job,” Trump said. “To a point where we are building now — we are going to have thousands and thousands of ventilators, and we are helping other countries. Because Phil doesn’t need ventilators. You needed them very badly in the beginning.”

    “We did,” replied the governor of New Jersey, whose state had seen nearly 7,000 deaths at the time of the meeting.

    Murphy emphasized to Trump the need for significant federal financial aid moving forward — something the president has resisted, saying the responsibility to handle the crisis, for the most part, is on the states.

    “The financial assistance we need, and we need a significant amount, this is a big hit and this is somewhere, in New Jersey alone could be $20 to 30 billion. This is to allow us to keep firefighters, teachers, police, EMS on the payroll serving the communities in their hour of need. That’s something we feel strongly about,” Murphy said.

    “We don’t see it as a bailout,” Murphy added. “We see this as a partnership, doing the right thing in what is the worst health care crisis in the history of our nation. I want to, again, thank the president for an extraordinary spirit of partnership across the whole spectrum of our needs.”

    Murphy also said he’s allowing some golf courses and state parks to reopen in New Jersey starting on Saturday, but social distancing is required.

    Two weeks ago, governors of seven states in the northeast, including Murphy, said they are working together to create joint recommendations on how they can reopen their economies in the coronavirus aftermath.

    The National Governors Association has also called on Congress to ensure the next coronavirus relief package includes funding for states and local communities, but GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested states could declare bankruptcy rather than receiving a federal bailout.

    Director of National Intelligence confirms U.S. looking at origins of theory coronavirus began in a Wuhan lab

    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a rare statement Thursday morning confirming media reports that it continues to look at whether the novel coronavirus outbreak began at a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.

    “The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” it read.

    The statement also says the intelligence community agrees with the “wide scientific consensus” that COVID-19 wasn’t man-made or genetically modified.

    Two administration officials confirmed to ABC News Wednesday that the White House ordered intelligence agencies to review communications intercepts and other data to see whether China and/or the World Health Organization concealed information early on about the emerging coronavirus. It was first reported by NBC.

    The idea that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab is unproven though pushed by some Trump administration officials.

    — ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Jordyn Phelps

    Trump to travel to Arizona on Tuesday to visit a Honeywell facility making N-95 masks

    President Trump said Wednesday he was planning to visit Arizona next week but didn’t specify what exactly he was going to do.

    White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said Thursday morning that Trump planned to visit a Honeywell facility in Phoenix. The company announced last month the facility would be making N-95 masks, creating 500 jobs.

    It will be an official visit with no campaign stops or events scheduled to be included on the trip, Deere said.

    Local media in Phoenix first reported these details on Wednesday.

    — ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

    Fauci warns states against ‘tempting’ a coronavirus rebound, cautions that remdesivir is ‘not the total answer’

    As states begin to roll back restrictions and reopen businesses, the government’s top expert on infectious disease Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Thursday that new cases of the coronavirus are a certainty and advised states follow the guidelines for phased reopening laid out by the federal government.

    “We will get blips … there’s no doubt,” Fauci told NBC.” “When you pull back there will be cases, and what we need to do is make sure (states) have in place the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing individuals.”

    “The guidelines are very, very explicit, and very clear,” Fauci said. “There’s a lot of leeway because we give the governors the opportunity to be very flexible, but you have to have the core principles of the guidelines. You can’t just leap over things and get into a situation where you’re really tempting a rebound. That’s the thing I get concerned about. I hope they don’t do that.”

    He expanded on those initial results of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-sponsored trial of remdesivir, where he is the director, after announcing on Wednesday its results showed “good news”

    “It’s the first step in what we project will be better and better drugs coming along, either alone or in combination, drugs of this type, and drugs addressing other targets of the virus,” Fauci said. “So it’s good news, but I was very serious when I said this is not the total answer, by any means. But it’s a very important first step.”

    He noted that while the results were “clearly positive from a statistically significant standpoint, they were modest” — showing a recovery time reduced by 31% — or from 15 days to 11 days.

    Fauci also said he spoke with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn about granting approval for emergency usage of the drug, and that while the FDA had yet to make a final decision, Fauci thought the approval would come “reasonably soon.”

    He also revealed his optimism that a vaccine could be available in large quantities as early as January.

    “We’re going to safely and carefully — but as quickly as we possibly can — try and get an answer as to whether it works and is safe,” Fauci said.

    — ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

    Department of Labor: 3.8 million jobless claims filed last week

    A record-shattering 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, wiping out a decade of employment gains and jobless claims reaching a number worse than the Great Recession, the key reason driving President Trump’s “Opening Up America Again” plan.

    Last week alone, 3.8 million people filed for unemployment insurance, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday morning.

    The unprecedented influx in jobless claims has created a number of issues for those in dire need of benefits as businesses across the country are forced to close their doors and Americans report ongoing struggles in the unemployment application process.

    Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was at a historic low of 3.6%.

    — ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke and Ella Torres

    What to know about the coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
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