Excerpts: Rmarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Conference

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

Washington, D.C.

February 26, 2020

THE PRESIDENT:  … I have just received another briefing from a great group of talented people on the virus that is going around to various parts of the world.  We have, through some very good early decisions — decisions that were actually ridiculed at the beginning — we closed up our borders to flights coming in from certain areas, areas that were hit by the coronavirus and hit pretty hard.  And we did it very early. A lot of people thought we shouldn’t have done it that early, and we did, and it turned out to be a very good thing. 

 

We — we’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads.  As most of you know, the — the level that we’ve had in our country is very low, and those people are getting better, or we think that in almost all cases they’re better, or getting.  We have a total of 15. We took in some from Japan — you heard about that — because they’re American citizens, and they’re in quarantine. And they’re getting better too. 

But we felt we had an obligation to do that.  It could have been as many as 42. And we found that we were — it was just an obligation we felt that we had.  We could have left them, and that would have been very bad — very bad, I think — of American people. And they’re recovering. 

Of the 15 people — the “original 15,” as I call them — 8 of them have returned to their homes, to stay in their homes until fully recovered.  One is in the hospital and five have fully recovered. And one is, we think, in pretty good shape and it’s in between hospital and going home. 

So we have a total of — but we have a total of 15 people, and they’re in a process of recovering, with some already having fully recovered.

 

Now, at the same time, you do have some outbreaks in some countries.  Italy and various countries are having some difficulty. China, you know about it, where it started.

I spoke with President Xi.  We had a great talk. He’s working very hard, I have to say.  He’s working very, very hard. And if you can count on the reports coming out of China, that spread has gone down quite a bit.  The infection seems to have gone down over the last two days. As opposed to getting larger, it’s actually gotten smaller. In one instance where we think we can be — it’s somewhat reliable, it seems to have gotten quite a bit smaller.

With respect to the money that’s being negotiated, they can do whatever they want.  I mean, again, we’ll do the two and a half. We’re requesting two and a half. Some Republicans would like us to get four, and some Democrats would like us to get eight and a half.  And we’ll be satisfied whatever — whatever it is. 

 

We have in quarantine those infected and those at risk.  We have a lot of great quarantine facilities. We’re rapidly developing a vaccine, and they can speak to you — the professionals can speak to you about that.  The vaccine is coming along well. And in speaking to the doctors, we think this is something that we can develop fairly rapidly, a vaccine for the future, and coordinate with the support of our partners.  We have great relationships with all of the countries that we’re talking about. Some fairly large number of countries. Some it’s one person, and many countries have no problem whatsoever. And we’ll see what happens. 

The Johns Hopkins, I guess — is a highly respected, great place — they did a study, comprehensive: “The Countries Best and Worst Prepared for an Epidemic.”  And the United States is now — we’re rated number one. We’re rated number one for being prepared. This is a list of different countries. 

I don’t want to get in your way, especially since you do such a good job.

This is a list of the different countries.  The United States is rated number one most prepared.  United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Thailand, Sweden, Denmark, South Korea, Finland.  These — this is a list of the best-rated countries in the world by Johns Hopkins.

We’re doing something else that’s important to me, because he’s been terrific in many ways, but he’s also very good on healthcare.  And we really followed him very closely — a lot of states do — when Mike was governor — Mike Pence — of Indiana. They’ve established great healthcare.  They have a great system there. It’s a system that a lot of — a lot of the other states have really looked to and changed their systems. They wanted to base it on the Indiana system.  It’s very good. And I think — and he’s, really, very expert at the field. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Mr. President.  President Trump has made clear from the first days of this administration: We have no higher priority than the safety, security, health, and wellbeing of the American people.

And from the first word of a outbreak of the coronavirus, the President took unprecedented steps to protect the American people from the spread of this disease.  He recounted those briefly, but the establishment of travel restrictions, aggressive quarantine effort of Americans that are returning, the declaration of a public health emergency, and establishing the White House Corona[virus] Task Force are all reflective of the urgency that the President has brought to a whole-of-government approach. 

As a former governor from the state where the first MERS case emerged in 2014, I know full well the importance of presidential leadership, the importance of administration leadership, and the vital role of partnerships of state and local governments and health authorities in responding to the potential threat of dangerous infectious diseases. 

And I — I look forward, Mr. President, to serving in this role.  I’m bringing together all the members of the Corona Task Force that you’ve established: HHS, CDC, DHS, the Department of Transportation, and State.  This team has been, at your direction, Mr. President, meeting every day since it was established.

 

We’ll also be continuing to reach out to governors, state and local officials.  In fact, in recent days, the White House met with over 40 state, county, and city health officials from over 30 states and territories to discuss how to respond to this — to the potential threat of the coronavirus.  We’ll be working with them in renewed ways to make sure they have the resources to be able to respond. 

We’ll also be working with members of Congress to ensure that the resources are available for this whole-of-government response, and we’ll be working very closely with Secretary Azar and his team that have done an outstanding job communicating to the public to ensure the American people have the best information on ways to protect themselves and their families, and also that the public has the most timely information on the potential threat to the American people.

SECRETARY AZAR:  … As of today, we have 15 cases of COVID-19 that have been detected in the United States, with only one new case detected in the last two weeks.  We also have three cases among Americans repatriated from Wuhan and 42 cases among Americans repatriated who had been stuck on the Diamond Princess in Japan. 

The President’s early and decisive actions, including travel restrictions, have succeeded in buying us incredibly valuable time.  This has helped us contain the spread of the virus, handle the cases that we have, and prepare for the possibility that we will need to mitigate broader spread of infections within the United States.

The President’s actions taken with the strong support of his scientific advisors have proven to be appropriate, wise, and well-calibrated to the situation.

We’re grateful for the hard work that healthcare workers, first responders, communities, and state and local leaders have put into the response so far.  Because of this hard work and the President’s leadership, the immediate risk to the American public has been and continues to be low. Our containment strategy has been working.

At the same time, what every one of our experts and leaders have been saying for more than a month now remains true: The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly, and we can expect to see more cases in the United States.  That is why we’ve been reminding the American public and our state, local, and private sector partners that they should be aware of what a broader response would look like. 

CDC has recommended that the American public, and especially state and local governments, businesses, and other organizations should refresh themselves on how they would respond in the event that the situation worsens. 

We’re encouraging Americans to learn what future steps might be necessary to keep themselves and their communities safe.  Knowing these potential steps now can help keep the risk to you and your community low. 

Americans can find useful information at CDC.gov/COVID19.  And we’re working closely with government and private sector partners to educate them about preparedness.

SCHUCHAT:  … As you know, this has been a difficult and challenging time, and our hearts go out to the individuals who have been directly affected by the virus, and to all those who have been working tirelessly in responding to it.

Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far.  However, we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare.

As you heard, it’s the perfect time for businesses, healthcare systems, universities, and schools to look at their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off, and make sure that they’re ready.  And we have lots more information at the CDC’s website and in partnership on how to do that.

But it’s also a really good time for the American public to prepare and for you to know what this means for you. 

The coronavirus that we’re talking about is a respiratory virus.  It’s spread in a similar way to the common cold or to influenza. It’s spread through coughs and sneezes. 

And so those everyday sensible measures that we tell people to do every year with the flu are important here: covering your cough, staying home when you’re sick, and washing your hands.  Tried and true, not very exciting measures, but really important ways that you can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

So this — the trajectory of what we’re looking at over the weeks and months ahead is very uncertain.  But many of the steps that we have taken over the past 15 years to prepare for pandemic influenza, and our experience going through the 2009 H1N1 pandemic of influenza, remind us of the kinds of steps that our healthcare system, our businesses, our communities, and schools may need to take.

Q    You talked a little earlier about the screening measures that you put in place and the travel restrictions you’ve put in place regarding China.  At this point, as the virus spreads in Italy and South Korea, are you planning on adding those countries to the list?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, just so you understand — you know, I’m the President of the United States.  I’m not the President of other countries. Other countries — some on the list that are very respected in what they do in terms of what we’re talking about. 

But I really want to be responsible for this country, if it means placing very strong — a very strong situation on the border so people can’t come into our country from a country that is infected.  That’s — we’re doing that, and we’ve already done it with numerous countries.

But we have to focus on this country.  I don’t think it’s right to impose our self on others.  But if others aren’t taking care or we think they’re doing it incorrectly — you know, we’re dealing with World Health, and we have terrific people.  And CDC does go around and help other countries give them recommendations as what to do. But they’re working on their countries and we’re working on our countries.  And, so far, from our standpoint, it’s really worked out very well.

Q    Just to follow up on Zeke’s question, can you clarify: Are you considering restricting travel to and from South Korea, Italy, and other countries that have been affected by this?

THE PRESIDENT:  At a right time, we may do that.  Right now, it’s not the right time.  But at a right time — and we are checking people as they come through, specifically for the problem, the problem that we’re dealing with.  So we’re checking a lot of people if they’re coming from — South Korea has been hit pretty hard; Italy has been hit pretty hard. China — it’s obvious what’s happened in China.

But again, the numbers seem to be leveling off and going down in China, which is very good news.  So we’ll see what happens. 

THE PRESIDENT:  …

But we have much worse instances than Brazil.  You know, you have Italy and you have other countries where they have much more than one person.  They have one person right now. As of now — as of just a little while ago — one person in Brazil.  But Italy is, you know, a deeper problem. 

And we’re checking people coming in very, very strongly from those.  And at some point, we may cut that off. You know, at some point, depending on what happens, we may cut certain additional countries off, like we’ve had to do with China.  And we hope we can open it up to China as soon as possible. 

And we — and we hope the numbers we’ve been getting — we hope the numbers that we’ve been getting are true on China, where it really has leveled off and started to go down, because eventually, sometime, that’s going to happen.

Q    Mr. President.  Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to get to China. At the beginning of this outbreak, the Chinese Communist Party covered it up.  That has been — that has been the general consensus of everyone. How can you now legitimately trust President Xi and the Chinese —

THE PRESIDENT:  Xi.

Q    — Communist regime?  President Xi. And the Chinese Communist regime — 

THE PRESIDENT:  Took me awhile to figure that one out.

Q    — to be forthcoming and forthright with this pandemic?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I can tell you this: I speak to him; I had a talk with him recently.  And he is working so hard on this problem. He is working so hard. And they’re very tough and very smart. 

And it’s a significant — it’s a significant group of very talented people that are working.  And they’re calling up Dr. Fauci. They’re calling up our people. We’re dealing with them. We’re giving them certain advice.  We actually have — through World Health, we have them over there also. And we have a lot of our people making up that group that went over there. 

No, he’s working very hard.  It would be very easy for me to say, you know — it doesn’t matter what I say, really.  I can tell you, he is working — I had a long talk with him the other night. He is working really, really hard.  He wants it to go away from China and go away fast, and he wants to get back to business as usual. 

Q    Are you working with China right now?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    And specifically, in what areas?  Also, do you worry about the —

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re working with China.  We just did the biggest trade deal in history.  We did two of them. Between USMCA and the China deal, it’s the biggest in history.

The relationship with China is a very good one.  And I can tell you that, again, President Xi is working really hard.  He wants this problem solved. As hard as you can work.

 Thank you all.