EletiofeCoronavirus US live: Birx says Trump wears mask when...

Coronavirus US live: Birx says Trump wears mask when not socially distancing

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Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Republican governor, decried the politicization of wearing masks in public to help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not about politics, this is not about whether you’re liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican, Democrat,” DeWine said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “We wear the mask, and it’s been very clear what the studies have shown, you wear the mask not to protect yourself so much as to protect others. And this is one time when we truly are all in this together. What we do directly impacts others.”

DeWine’s remarks were in response to North Dakota governor Doug Burgum’s emotional address on Friday decrying the “senseless dividing line” between US citizens over whether masks should be worn in public.

With many states like Ohio beginning to relax stay-at-home restrictions, DeWine stressed the importance of doing it carefully.

“Our order does say that every employee in every business unless there is some reason that they can’t wear that mask, every employee’s wearing a mask today,” he said. “So that’s a fundamental change in Ohio. As we go out, you know, a lot of stores you’ll see 90% of the people who do, the customers are wearing masks. But we want to continue to up that throughout the state because it is really what we need as we open up the economy.

“Look, Chuck, this is a risk. But it’s also a risk if we don’t open up the economy, all the downsides of not opening the economy. We can do both these things.”

It’s a familiar internet thing – I don’t know if I can use the word meme here or not, because Richard Dawkins lost me on it years ago and I never caught up – to express comic bewilderment at the things 2020 has decided to throw at us: a pandemic, floods, murder hornets, celebrities singing Imagine in lockdown.

We’ve already had warnings about starving, cannibalistic rats, so perhaps new federal warnings about aggressive rats are actually only worth a side note. But, y’know, Winston Smith, Orwell, Room 101, worst fears, etc. So:

According to new advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food. Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior.”

As the Washington Post puts it, this is bad because “rats can transmit food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, and their urine can also worsen allergies and asthma, especially in children”.

So that’s nice.

Richard Luscombe writes…

A (little) more detail on the revelations from Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, on Fox News Sunday that Donald Trump does indeed wear a mask when he’s not socially distancing. It turns out to be more of an assumption on her part, in place of any hard and fast evidence.

“I’m not with him every day and every moment so I don’t know if he can maintain social distance. I’ve asked everybody independently to really make sure you wear a mask if you can’t maintain the six feet,” Birx said.

“I’m assuming that in a majority of cases he’s able to maintain that six feet distance.”

Pressed by host Chris Wallace if she felt Trump should be setting an example to the country by wearing one in public, Birx said: “The president did wear a mask while he was less than six feet… where that was important, while he was travelling last week.”

Birx was presumably referring to his visit to a Ford plant in Michigan during which he told reporters he had worn one “backstage” but removed it for his public appearance because “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

More generally, Birx said: “There’s clear scientific evidence to show that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others. Out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot socially distance.”

She said she was “very concerned” at images of people enjoying the Memorial Day weekend on beaches and parks, in close proximity and without masks.

“We know being outside does help, we know the sun does help in killing the virus, but that doesn’t change the fact that people need to be responsible and maintain that distance,” she said.

“I was hoping to convey this very clear message to the American people. Across the country there is a virus out there.”

Birx faced similar questions from Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, who questioned whether her comments on Friday that people should get outside for Memorial Day was the right call.

“We have to communicate through different venues, making sure that our generation sees and our Millennials can help us get that message out there, of how to be together socially yet distant,” she said. “Americans are amazingly innovative. And I think we really just need to have better continuous communication on how important that is.”

One big question from Raddatz as numbers continue to spike in some areas… will the nation need a prolonged, or second lockdown?

“It’s difficult to tell and I really am data-driven, so I’m collecting data right now about whether governors and whether states and whether communities are able to open safely,” she said.

“All of this proactive testing needs to be in place and needs to continue to be in place because that will determine safely remaining open in the fall.”

Updated

Val Demings, a Democratic representative from Florida who is among contenders to be Joe Biden’s running mate in the presidential election, has castigated Donald Trump for having the “gall and nerve” to use a gaffe by Biden as a weapon on the campaign trail.

Val Demings.

Val Demings. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Biden apologised after saying if African Americans “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”, a remark which prompted fierce attacks from supporters of the president and criticism from Biden’s own backers.

“The vice-president shouldn’t have said it, he apologised for it,” Demings told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

“But I really think the gall and the nerve of President Trump to try to use this in his campaign, he who has since day one done everything in his power, supported by his enablers, to divide this country, particularly along racial lines …

“Look, let’s talk about race because we definitely need to, we see it in housing, we see it in voting rights, we see it in healthcare, we see it in education. Mr President, let’s do have a serious conversation about race in America and how about working for all people that you are supposed to represent, not just the privileged few.”

It was the kind of fiery defence one would expect from someone talked about as a possible running mate. Biden has committed to choosing a woman and many – including the interviewer who elicited the gaffe on Friday, radio host Charlamagne tha God – think it should be an African American woman.

California senator Kamala Harris and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams – a target of retweets in dubious taste from Trump on Saturday night – are generally thought to be the most likely picks.

But Demings, a former Orlando police chief, delivered a decent mini-audition for a traditional running mate role: going on the offensive.

Asked about expressions of outrage from the Republican South Carolina senator Tim Scott and former Utah representative Mia Love, Demings said: “I think it’s interesting that the president searched high and low to find [an] African American member of the Senate and a former member of Congress to speak out on this issue. It’d be nice to hear other Republicans, male or female, speak out.”

CNN host Dana Bash asked directly if Demings wants to be vice-president. She did not answer directly, but made it clear she would serve if asked.

O’Brien compares China ‘cover-up’ to Chernobyl

National security adviser Robert O’Brien has also appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, to accuse China of a “cover-up that they did of the virus [that] is going to go down in history along with Chernobyl”.

Most scientists say the pathogen that has infected 5.3m and killed more than 342,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, was passed from bats to humans via an intermediary species likely sold at a wet market in Wuhan late last year.

But Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior US figures have repeatedly said they suspect the coronavirus was somehow released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Trump administration is seeking a scapegoat for a US death toll near 100,000, criticism of the president’s handling of the outbreak and a cratering economy.

Vice-President Mike Pence kept up the charge on Saturday, telling Breitbart News: “China let the world down and the World Health Organization was their willing partner in withholding from the United States and the wider world vital information about the coronavirus that would have made it possible to stand up a national response sooner.

“… Make no mistake about it that China will be held accountable for what the world has gone through because of their lack of transparency.”

On Sunday, O’Brien said: “We want good relations with China and with the Chinese people, but unfortunately, we’re seeing just action after action by the Chinese Communist Party that makes it difficult … we’re dealing in a new world now with corona.

“They unleashed a virus on the world that’s destroyed trillions of dollars in American economic wealth that we’re having to spend to keep our economy alive, to keep Americans afloat during this virus. So we’re in a, we’re in a very different world.

“The cover-up that they did of the virus is going to go down in history along with Chernobyl. We’ll see an HBO special about 10 or 15 years from now, and so we’re in a different place with China as we speak today.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported comments from the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology about US claims the lab is to blame for the virus.

Such claims are a “pure fabrication”, Wang Yanyi was quoted by state media as saying, adding that the institute did not have “any knowledge before that nor had we ever met, researched or kept the virus. We didn’t even know about the existence of the virus, so how could it be leaked from our lab when we didn’t have it?”

The AP also said the coronavirus toll continues to ebb in Asia and other parts of the world, with China on Sunday reporting three new cases and just 79 people remaining in treatment for Covid-19.

Here’s an op ed about such comparisons, from a more sober standpoint:

Updated

Trump adviser: travel from Brazil to be restricted

The United States will on Sunday impose a lockdown on travelers from Brazil, according to Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

Robert O’Brien.

Robert O’Brien. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Covid-19 deaths have soared in Brazil as the country’s foul-mouthed president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to deflect from the crisis. It seems the Trump administration has heard enough.

“I think we’ll have a decision today with respect to Brazil, just like we did with the UK and Europe and China, and we hope it will be temporary,” Robert O’Brien told CBS’s Face the Nation.

“We’re concerned about the people of the southern hemisphere,” O’Brien continued, “the people of Brazil, they’ve had a rough go of it. But because of the situation in Brazil, we’re going to take every step necessary to protect the American people.

“As of now I’d say Brazil, and we’ll take a look at the other countries on a country by country basis.”

O’Brien did not divulge details of any such lockdown. But the conversation did allow him to pick up the White House narrative of painting China as the bogeyman of the Covid-19 crisis.

“They allowed those folks to travel from China to Europe, and to seed the disease in Europe and have it come through a backdoor into the United States,” O’Brien said. “In perfect hindsight, when we realized the Europeans hadn’t cut off travel, sure it would have been better to cut off earlier.”

O’Brien claimed “literally hundreds of thousands or millions of lives were saved” by Trump’s travel bans, and that the president’s move was “a profile in courage”.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday on how Trump’s restriction on flights from Europe backfired badly.

O’Brien also said he expected an in-person G7 gathering of world leaders to take place in Washington in late June.

“We’re getting very close to the peak [of the pandemic] if we’re not already, in Washington and if the situation permits it, and we think it will, we’d love to have the G7 in person,” O’Brien said.

“We’ll make sure everybody’s tested, we’ll make sure it’s a safe environment. The leaders would love to get out of their offices and meet in person to plan the post-Covid world.”

Two other notable footnotes: the US presidential election will take place as planned on 3 November, “no question about it” O’Brien says, despite speculation fuelled by comments from Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that the administration might be looking at a postponement.

“We’ll have to see what happens with the virus, but we want to make sure that we have a free and fair election. That election’s going to take place on election day, there’s no question about it,” O’Brien said, declaring that stockpiles of PPE, especially masks, were being built for election workers.

O’Brien also insisted there was no security risk posed by Trump, the nation’s commander in chief, continuing to take hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that the Food and Drug Administration says could have life-threatening side effects.

“I’m sure they’re doing the right regimen for President Trump … he’s under great medical care,” O’Brien said.

“He’s doing the right thing that he and his physician believe is good for the president. The guy’s got more energy than anyone I’ve ever seen,” he added, claiming improbably that the golf-loving president was working “16, 18 hours a day.”

Florida senator, and former governor, Rick Scott is up on CNN’s State of the Union, struggling to explain why he thinks Floridians should wear masks and socially distance while the state reopens and beaches fill over Memorial Day weekend, but doesn’t think there should be official mandates to do so.

“I trust the American public to make good decisions,” Scott says. But he thinks “if you’re close to somebody you oughta wear a mask. We have to social distance safely … we have to do it.”

Asked about comments to Fox News earlier this week which were much more skeptical and, well, Trumpy, Scott insists people should not be told what to do by the president, governors, senators and other figures in authority. But should heed advice, such as that he, a senator, is giving now.

Scott defends Trump’s attempt to order states to open houses of worship on the same lines: people will do it safely but the government shouldn’t order them to do so.

“I don’t think it matters what the president or a governor says,” says the former governor and current senator.

In a sense, of course, it doesn’t matter what Trump says on the churches issue, because he doesn’t have the constitutional power to order governors to open churches.

Speaking of America’s beaches, here’s Ankita Rao on the subject:

Birx: Trump does wear a mask

White House public health adviser Dr Deborah Birx is appearing on Fox News Sunday and according to Fox News Sunday, she says: “President Trump does wear a mask when he is unable to social distance from others.”

Trump’s reluctance to wear a mask in public or apparently in private has become a running theme of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly since cases were confirmed in the White House, close to the president himself. This week, at a Ford plant in Michigan, Trump was pictured wearing one.

Not without connection to Trump’s stance, the wearing of masks in public, or not, has become a new front line in America’s culture war. Federal guidelines recommend it, some states demand it, and some do not. Some rightwing protesters have decried the wearing of masks.

On Saturday, video spread showing North Dakota governor Doug Burgum moved to tears while pleading for people not to “mask shame” those who choose to cover their noses and mouths in public. North Dakota does not mandate the wearing of masks.

Also from Fox News Sunday about its interview with Birx (which airs at 10am ET in New York): “Dr Deborah Birx says on Fox News Sunday she is still concerned with people going outside and not social distancing.”

Here’s a picture of Donald Trump shaking hands with a golfing partner in Virginia on Saturday:

Donald Trump golfs.

Donald Trump golfs. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Trump adviser: unemployment heading ‘north of 20%’

Talk shows up.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett tells CNN’s State of the Union he expects unemployment to go “north of 20%” before any correction, which means figures will be higher in June. Nearly 40m Americans have filed for unemployment under the pandemic, after all.

Is it possible unemployment will still be in double digits in November when the country goes to the polls, Hassett is asked.

“Yes,” he says.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien has told CBS’s Face the Nation the election won’t be delayed, by the way.

Trump hopes an election held in an economic hole does not happen, to put it mildly, as he gears up for his election campaign against Joe Biden.

Unemployment will move back slowly, Hassett says, adding: “If there were a vaccine in July I would be way more optimistic about it.” There won’t be.

Hassett is also pressed on the prospects for the stimulus bill passed by the House but stalled in front of the Senate and the White House. He hedges but it’s clear there’s no significant movement.

Updated

Checking in on the catchweight bout of the century – or, well, today – between Donald Trump and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, better known as Jeff Sessions, the attorney general Trump tormented and fired over his recusal from overseeing the Russia investigation who is now running for his old Senate seat in Alabama while Trump torments him some more.

Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Sessions, on Saturday: “Mr President. Alabama can and does trust me, as do conservatives across the country. Perhaps you’ve forgotten. They trusted me when I stepped out and put that trust on the line for you. You and I fight for the same agenda. Tommy Tuberville [his Senate opponent, ahead in the polls, endorsed by Trump] is so weak he won’t debate me and too weak for Alabama.

“Alabama will vote for you this fall, but Alabama will not take orders from Washington on who to send to the Senate.”

Trump, in reply: “Jeff, you had your chance and you blew it. Recused yourself ON DAY ONE (you never told me of a problem), and ran for the hills. You had no courage, and ruined many lives. The dirty cops, and others, got caught by better and stronger people than you. Hopefully this slime will pay a big price.

“You should drop out of the race and pray that super liberal Doug Jones, a weak and pathetic puppet for Crazy Nancy Pelosi & Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, gets beaten badly. He voted for impeachment based on “ZERO”. Disgraced Alabama. Coach Tuberville will be a GREAT Senator!”

So there’s that:

Donald Trump has no public events scheduled today. It’s the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the American summer, and the weather forecast for Washington DC is, if not spectacular, not wet.

One would think it’s a toss-up whether the president stays in to rage tweet the morning shows – Dr Deborah Birx is up on a couple and seems sure to be asked about the president’s choice of activity on Saturday as the coronavirus death toll neared 100,000 – or heads back to Trump National in Sterling, Virginia.

While we wait – on the edges of our seats, I’m sure – to find out, here’s some further reading from our columnist Robert Reich, once labor secretary under Bill Clinton, on the great question of whether it’s safe for states to reopen their economies (or indeed their churches, as Trump demanded they do today):

Good morning…

…and welcome to another day of coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, and of course the politics around it. According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 1,613,302 confirmed cases in the US and 96,657 deaths.

Around 1,000 of those deaths, and a few details about the person behind each one, are featured on a New York Times front page which is making headlines of its own this morning. Also making headlines, Donald Trump’s decision to spend Saturday playing golf at his course in Virginia.

On Saturday night, the conservative never-Trumper, Lincoln Project member and husband of a senior Trump aide George Conway spliced the two images together on Twitter. It was a powerful juxtaposition.

George Conway
(@gtconway3d)

pic.twitter.com/a9FJ86ro5O

May 23, 2020

Joe Biden’s campaign released an ad on the subject.

Public health experts including the White House’s own Dr Deborah Birx say golf is OK, with social distancing and other measures observed – Trump, not wearing a mask, was filmed shaking hands with a playing partner – as the country looks to open up its battered economy. So, like so much in politics, this is all about the optics.

It’s also all about the hypocrisy, of course, as all politics is. In this case, Trump used to batter Barack Obama for playing too much golf. In office, Trump has played more than 200 times – more than Obama did in his first term. Also, as the president played during a public health crisis it turned out, of course it did, that There Was A Tweet For That:

Donald J. Trump
(@realDonaldTrump)

President Obama has a major meeting on the N.Y.C. Ebola outbreak, with people flying in from all over the country, but decided to play golf!

October 24, 2014

Trump did turn away from golf in the evening, though only to deliver a characteristic tweet storm from the confines of the White House. Among his targets for caustic comments and retweets in highly questionable taste: Nancy Pelosi, Stacey Abrams, Jeff Sessions and of course Biden.

Trump also once again insinuated, disgracefully, that former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough might be guilty of murder. About the veracity or otherwise of that vicious claim, the Washington Post fact checker awards it its top rating of four Pinnochios and says: “We wish we had more to give.”

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