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Appearing alongside President Donald Trump at a Friday afternoon news conference, where Trump declared a national emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic, Vice President Mike Pence called on Americans to use “common sense” in addressing the virus’ spread.
Health officials at the news conference reiterated simple hygiene steps such as washing your hands and avoiding people who are sick.
“I encourage everyone to follow these guidelines by the CDC. A lot of it is common sense,” Trump, 73, echoed at one point from the podium, even as he repeatedly shook hands with attendees — which officials have warned against. (In Denmark, for example, citizenship ceremonies that legally require a handshake have been paused.)
One official at Friday’s news conference, health care executive Bruce Greenstein, avoided the president’s offered hand and instead gave him an elbow bump.
But the president has recently come into contact with both a person who later tested positive for coronavirus and, late last month, several people who were in contact with another coronavirus patient before that patient tested positive.
Trump said Friday he was still working out his schedule in order to be tested for the coronavirus but that he “likely” would be. He said that he did not show any symptoms and the White House medical staff had not advised a test. People shouldn’t take the test unless they or their doctor felt they should, Trump said.
He said his national emergency declaration on Friday frees up about $50 billion in emergency funds that the federal government can use to further support efforts to combat the coronavirus, which causes the deadly COVID-19 respiratory disease.
The Trump administration’s response has been under mounting scrutiny in recent weeks, in particular because government-supplied coronavirus testing has not been nearly as widespread as in some other countries.
Friday’s news conference was largely to announce a new partnership with corporations and private laboratories to dramatically increase testing in the coming days, Trump said.
He said he didn’t “take responsibility at all” for earlier delays, blaming obstacles he said he had inherited.
In the weeks leading up to his emergency declaration, Trump claimed Democrats were trying to weaponize the coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him politically and downplayed its seriousness, comparing it to the seasonal flu. He reversed that position on Friday.
Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target Corporation, (left) shakes hands with President Donald Trump on Friday.
Bruce Greenstein avoids President Donald Trump’s handshake on Friday.
A reporter at Friday’s news conference asked Trump whether he was worried about his own health after being in close contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose communications director, Fabio Wajngarten, tested positive for the virus days after posting a photo of himself with Trump and Pence at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club last weekend.
“No, we have no symptoms whatsoever,” Trump said. “We had a great meeting with the president of Brazil. We did have dinner with him. We sat next to each other.”
Later he maintained he has “no idea” who Wajngarten is and claimed their interaction lasted a matter of seconds.
One reporter pointed out that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is on Trump’s coronavirus task force, said Friday morning that people can contract the virus by standing next to someone who has the illness.
The reporter asked whether Americans should listen to Trump or his medical officials about the best guidance in addressing the virus.
“I think they have to listen to their doctors,” Trump responded, saying he’ll “most likely” be tested for the virus after the same reporter asked whether he was being selfish for not self-isolating after coming into contact with Wajngarten. (His daughter Ivanka Trump, a senior aide, worked from home on Friday as a precaution after she was in contact with an Australian official last week who has since tested positive for the virus.)
“I don’t know that I had exposure,” President Trump said Friday. “I don’t have any of the symptoms.”
Moments later he warned “anyone can be a carrier of the virus.”
What an example president Trump provides during the #Covid_19 outbreak: he just shook hands on tv with the CEOs of Walmart and Walgreen (not Target.) That’s a no-no, can spread the virus. Trump just declared a national emergency over #COVID-19— Marina Strauss (@MarinaStrauss) March 13, 2020
shaking hands....at the coronavirus press conference pic.twitter.com/VxFFqr564E— David Mack (@davidmackau) March 13, 2020
Numerous health and government officials have encouraged “social distancing” — which includes avoiding contact with others, working from home and avoiding large gatherings — to slow new infections.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on Thursday that both the White House Medical Unit and the Secret Service were “working closely with various agencies” to ensure protection for the first and second families.
To prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.