As fears spread of a possible coronavirus outbreak in the U.S, President Trump addressed the nation in a Wednesday evening news conference at the White House to discuss how his administration was handling the virus threat — saying that a vaccine is being developed “rapidly” and “coming along very well.”
However, Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said later at the press conference that a vaccine would not be applicable to the epidemic for a “year to a year and a half,” due to delays from testing, development, production and distribution.
The freewheeling and sometimes confusing press conference marked a rare appearance by the president in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, as he usually takes questions from reporters outside the White House while his Marine One helicopter prepares for takeoff. “It’s really nice to talk to you without the helicopter,” a reporter shouted at one point, as others laughed and applauded. (“We’ll do more of ’em,” Trump said after some journalists asked him to “come back” to the briefing room in the future.)
Some of Trump’s targets remained the same, despite the new setting. In particular, the president excoriated both the Federal Reserve and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, calling her “incompetent” after she challenged his response to the virus and said he couldn’t be trusted on the matter. “I think she’s not thinking about the country; instead of making a statement like that, where I’ve been beating her routinely at everything … she should be saying we should work together,” Trump said.
The president announced he was putting Vice President Mike Pence “in charge” of coronavirus prevention efforts, effective immediately. The White House had reportedly considered naming a virus czar to be the point person on the disease. “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said. “We’re ready to adapt, and we’re ready to do whatever we have to.”
The president revealed that of the “15” Americans confirmed to have the virus, eight 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, uh, we think in pretty good shape, and is in between hospital and going home.” Trump later said the person was “pretty sick and hopefully will recover.”
So far, there have been 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. in total. That figure includes individuals who have been repatriated to the United States, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar later clarified at the podium. Fifteen people were in the initial set of cases, three more came from evacuation flights, and 42 were from the Diamond Princess ship that was quarantined by Japanese health authorities earlier this month. Azar warned that the “degree of risk has the potential to change quickly.”