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U.S. President Donald Trump reversed course Wednesday, saying he would keep the coronavirus task force indefinitely, but refocus it on keeping Americans safe and reopening the country to commerce again.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who has been heading the U.S. government's response to the pandemic, said Tuesday the coronavirus task force would wind down at the end of May or in early June and its responsibilities turned over the various government agencies and officials.
But after some critics voiced opposition to Trump's stance, he took a new tack with a Twitter announcement, saying "the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics."
Trump declared Tuesday it is time to reopen the country's world-leading economy, which has plunged into a recession and been severely buffeted with the layoff of more than 30 million workers.
Trump, on a visit Tuesday to a Honeywell International factory in Arizona manufacturing millions of masks, said it was time to restart U.S. commerce even if it means more people will die.
"The people of our country are warriors," the president said. "Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open."
He told "ABC News" in an interview "there'll be more death," but predicted the coronavirus "will pass, with or without a vaccine."
In his Wednesday tweets, Trump said the coronavirus task force headed by Pence "has done a fantastic job of bringing together vast highly complex resources that have set a high standard for others to follow in the future. Ventilators, which were few & in bad shape, are now being produced in the thousands, and we have many to spare.
"We are helping other countries which are desperate for them," Trump said. "Likewise, after having been left little, we are now doing more testing than all other countries combined, and with superior tests. Face masks & shields, gloves, gowns etc. are now plentiful."
Before Trump reversed course, Pence said the administration was considering closing down the task force at the end of May or in early June, to shift management of the national response back to federal agencies. He called the move "a reflection of the tremendous progress we've made as a country."
"And as I've said before, as we continue to practice social distancing and states engage in safe and responsible reopening plans, I truly believe - and the trend lines support it - that we could be in a very different place," Pence said.
But the planned end to the task force drew immediate opposition.
Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said if he were in charge, he would shift the focus of the task force instead of getting rid of it.
"I would not dismantle it, but I would create a COVID-19 recovery task force," Mokdad said.
The U.S. coronavirus death toll now totals more than 71,000, substantially more than in any other country, with more than 1.2 million confirmed cases.
The University of Washington issued a new forecast Monday projecting 135,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States through the beginning of August. It said the figure takes into account easing of stay-at-home and social distancing measures that are occurring in about 30 U.S. states.