Trump planning to dismantle COVID-19 task force despite rising death toll

By Lucia Leal

Washington, May 5 (efe-epa).- The White House confirmed on Tuesday that it is planning to dismantle its Coronavirus Task Force, which would leave the Donald Trump administration without a centralized crisis management team at a moment when experts are warning that the number of Covid-19 deaths could double over the coming three months.

It is expected that the response team, which includes respected health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, will gradually scale back its activities over the next month and finally distribute its responsibilities among assorted government agencies, Vice President Mike Pence said.

Pence, who heads the Task Force, emphasized that by the end of May or beginning of June the government expects the coronavirus scenario to be “very different” from the one at present, with the peak in the number of nationwide Covid-19 cases having already been passed and more than half of US states in the process of gradually reopening their economies.

However, the announcement comes just one day after a model predicting the evolution of the pandemic on which the White House often has based its calculations for predicting the course of the crisis forecast that more than 134,000 will have died from Covid-19 in the US by Aug. 4.

That projection, by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, implies that the number of deaths from Covid-19 will almost double in the coming three months from the current level of more than 70,000.

Trump admitted last Sunday that the pandemic could take the lives of 100,000 people but at the same time he defended the plans of many states to gradually eliminate their lockdown measures.

Since its creation in late January, the Task Force has been made up of about 20 top officials from different US government agencies, who on occasion have clashed with the advice of health experts like Fauci and Birx.

The recommendations of the group have not always found favor with Trump, who appears to be increasingly impatient to reactivate the economy, and Fauci has contradicted the president several times, the latest occasion being on Monday when he said in an interview that there is no “scientific proof” that the coronavirus “escaped” from a Chinese laboratory.

Nevertheless, the dismantling of the working group does not mean that Fauci will disappear from the scene, since he will be able to continue heading the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), or that Birx will move out of the public eye, given that before being tapped to coordinate the Task Force’s activities she headed US efforts to eradicate AIDS.

What is expected, according to The New York Times, is that a second working group headed by Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner will continue operating, focusing among other things on supervising the development of therapeutic treatments for Covid-19.

Kushner’s team is made up in part of volunteers from private consulting firms with little experience in the pandemic issues they are dealing with now, a situation that has exacerbated the administration’s problems at a time when the country’s hospitals have desperately needed additional supplies, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rick Bright, a senior government scientist and the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed a whistleblower complaint on Tuesday alleging he was reassigned because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug being pushed by Trump as a treatment for Covid-19.

And states such as Texas and Georgia on Tuesday continued their efforts to gradually reopen businesses while Andrew Cuomo, the governor of the hardest-hit state, New York, warned them of the “human cost” that could result from a too-rapid attempt to return to normalcy.

The cost of the pandemic in New York took on even more tragic tones on Monday evening when the state published an updated list of people who have died – presumably of Covid-19 – in nursing homes, including more than 1,700 who had not been previously counted, raising the total number of deaths in such care centers for the elderly to 4,800.


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