The United States is “still knee-deep in the first wave” of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the country’s top public health experts has warned, as the country approaches 130,000 Covid-19 deaths and new polling indicates Donald Trump’s approval rating over his handling of the crisis has remained low.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday that America’s grasp of the pandemic was “really not good” and urged further action as new cases of the virus continue to surge to record highs of about 50,000 a day across the country.
“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this. And I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline,” Fauci said during an interview on Facebook Live.
Fauci’s stark warnings come as the White House continues to falter in its messaging and response to the pandemic. The public health expert, a leading physician on Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, cautioned that the surge was linked to certain cities and states that had reopened too quickly.
“A series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up in the sense of getting back to some form of normality has led to a situation where we now have record-breaking cases,” Fauci said.
Despite the surge in cases, Trump’s taskforce has been largely absent from public discussion in recent weeks. Once daily press briefings have been curtailed to sparse updates as the president seeks to downplay the crisis during the presidential election campaign season.
Polling on Tuesday indicated that Trump’s haphazard response to the pandemic has seen a continued decline in his approval ratings. An NBC news poll suggested a 55% disapproval rating, which compared with a 60% approval rating for state governors’ handling of the crisis, with seven out of 10 respondents saying they trusted their governor over the president when it came to reopening businesses in their region.
In recent days Trump has sought to downplay the severity of the virus, using a Fourth of July address over the weekend to falsely declare that 99% of Covid-19 cases are “totally harmless”. Despite this, the president has come under increased pressure to issue a national mandate on wearing face masks in public, with even Republican lawmakers urging their use.
The White House has shown little consistency on the issue, and appears unlikely to issue any order in the immediate future. On Monday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told Fox News: “When we look at masks and the wearing of masks, that’s done on a location basis when you can’t have social distancing. Certainly a national mandate is not in order.”
On Tuesday morning Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, continued to push for use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, suggesting he would take the drug himself if he displayed symptoms. Hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in treating coronavirus is unproven and the drug has been declared unsafe for use outside of a hospital setting by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA].
Trump is due to hold a rally in the swing state of New Hampshire on Saturday. Although attendees will be provided with face masks they will not be required to wear them. At a self-described “comeback” rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month masks were also provided to the 6,000 attendees but only a handful wore them during the indoor event held in a state with surging coronavirus cases.
The Republican party also plans to hold its convention in the city of Jacksonville, Florida, on 25 August, despite a major surge in coronavirus cases in the state, along with other sunbelt states such as Arizona, California and Texas. On Monday, Chuck Grassley, the 86-year-old Republican senator from Iowa announced he would not be attending the event, which he has been present for every year since 1980.
“I’m not going to go. And I’m not going to go because of the virus situation,” Grassley said during a conference call with reporters.
He said moving the convention was probably the right thing to do since North Carolina officials didn’t feel it was safe to have a large gathering.
“If you want to have a convention, and I think we should have a convention, I think you should do whatever you can to make it as safe as possible, so that would be with face masks and social distancing,” Grassley said.