President Donald Trump has lashed out at reporters as he defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act to order American businesses to manufacture and send supplies, like testing kits, ventilators and masks, to hospitals set to be overwhelmed by a wave of Covid-19 cases.
But he gave conflicting accounts as to when he officially invoked the rarely used order and did not specify which companies he was marshalling for the effort.
The president spent much of the Friday briefing in a fury, sparring with reporters who he deemed were being overly critical of the response.
He again painted an unrealistically rosy picture of the outlook, as doctors and nurses have already made desperate appeals for help even as the anticipated wave of new patients has yet to hit.
Mr Trump scoffed at questions about continued testing shortfalls and deficiencies in medical supplies, suggesting that even mentioning those issues was problematic.
When asked to speak directly to those marooned at home and frightened, Mr Trump voiced objection to the question.
“I think it’s a very bad signal you’re putting out to the American people,” Mr Trump said. “The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope.”
Seething, he then answered the TV correspondent by declaring that what he would tell the public gripped by the health scare is: “I think you are a terrible reporter.”
Vice President Mike Pence, when asked the same question later in the briefing, responded “Don’t be afraid, be vigilant.”
The president also announced an effective closure of the US border with Mexico, prohibiting most travel except for trade.
That brings it in line with the restriction on the Canadian border earlier this week. The US is also suspending interest on student loans to help young people cope with job losses and the financial crunch.
As Congress debated a financial relief package that could reach 1 trillion dollars, officials again urged Americans to maintain social distancing while Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, applauded strict new measures put in place by the governors of California and New York to limit mobility.
But Mr Trump and Dr Fauci split during the White House briefing on the possible effectiveness of new drugs being explored to treat the virus.
Mr Trump said he believed that a combination of medications he announced on Thursday would work to treat the virus.
Dr Fauci said no such declaration could be made without testing, again highlighting the sharp divide between data-driven health officials and a president who admits he follows his gut.
More than 200 people have died from Covid-19 in the US and sickness from the disease is on the rise, with hospitals at risk of being overrun.
Most people who get it have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.