Trump stews over election as virus surges

Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller
·3-min read

President Donald Trump has publicly disengaged from the battle against the coronavirus at a moment when the disease is tearing across the United States at an alarming pace.

Trump, fresh off his re-election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, remains angry that an announcement about progress in developing a vaccine for the disease came after Election Day.

Aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases are skyrocketing and hospital intensive care units in parts of the country are nearing capacity.

Public health experts worry that Trump's refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation's ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.

The White House coronavirus task force held its first post-election meeting on Monday. Officials discussed the rising case numbers and the promise of a vaccine in development by Pfizer.

But Trump, who does not take part in the task force meetings, remains preoccupied with last week's election results. He has yet to weigh in on the recent spike in virus cases that has state and local officials scrambling and hospitals concerned about their ability to treat those stricken.

With more than 100,000 new confirmed US cases reported daily for more than a week, Trump has been more focused on tracking the rollout of a vaccine, which won't be widely available for months.

He has fumed that Pfizer intentionally withheld an announcement about progress on its vaccine trial until after Election Day, according to a White House official who was not authorised to publicly comment and spoke on condition of anonymity. Pfizer said it did not purposely withhold trial results.

Although the president has consistently played down the pandemic, which has killed more than 240,000 Americans and infected more than 10 million people in the US, public health experts expressed worry about Trump's silence on the troubling spike in cases, as well as his refusal to begin coordination on virus issues with Biden's transition team.

The president's silence comes as numerous White House and campaign officials have tested positive in recent days.

Meanwhile, state and local officials around the country are scrambling in the midst of mounting caseloads. While Trump stays silent, they are urging their residents to step up mask wearing and social distancing, as they brace for what many epidemiologists worry is the beginning of a tumultuous period.

Trump hasn't answered questions since before Election Day. That hasn't slowed his Twitter habit, but he's used it almost exclusively in recent days to rage over the election results and spread unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

By late Thursday afternoon, Trump had tweeted or retweeted more than three dozen times that day. Just one was related to the virus - a retweet about Georgia receiving 2000 vials of a new antibody treatment.

White House officials declined to comment on Thursday on when Trump last engaged with members of the coronavirus task force but insisted he remains focused on the pandemic

"The president is regularly briefed about the coronavirus," said White House spokesperson Sarah Matthews. "The relevant information is brought to him on the big decisions, and then he moves forward in the way that's best for our country."

The White House announced Thursday evening that Trump would get an update Friday on Operation Warp Speed, the multi-agency effort to get a vaccine to market as speedily and safely as possible.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met virtually with his new coronavirus advisers this week, and Biden delivered remarks warning Americans that "the challenge before us right now is still immense and growing."

"We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives," Biden said in a speech this week.

"Please, I implore you, wear a mask."