WASHINGTON, DC -- The number of U.S. coronavirus cases surged by more than 14,000 in just a few hours Wednesday as the death toll topped 4,600.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 210,000 people in the United States have been infected, and at least 4,669 have died.
To open the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, President Donald Trump first brought forward several top officials and military officers who praised the president’s response to Covid-19 and then outlined what the administration is doing to combat what the president claimed was the danger of drug trafficking and illegal narcotics amid the pandemic.
“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there’s a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain,” Trump said. “We will never let that happen.”
Pivoting to talk about coronavirus about an hour after the briefing was expected to begin, Trump spoke of the huge need for supplies and the efforts the federal government was taking.
"Every day new plane loads are landing in cities such as New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles. Additional flights have been scheduled and we are adding more and more," Trump said. "The amount of usage, the amount of is something that nobody has ever seen before. We are getting so much, but no matter how much we get, we seem to use it up very quickly."
He said newly available medical equipment was being taken directly to hospital and not put in the national stockpile.
The president warned "starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, things are going to be horrific."
Asked about stopping flights between "hot spot" cities, including Detroit and New York City, Trump said that would be tough on the hard-hit airlines industry but then said, "We're looking at it very closely."
“It's very tough. You have them going from hot spot to hot spot. If you notice, they're usually hot spot to hot spot. Very few flights. New York to Miami, and we are thinking -- we are looking at it. Once you do that, you really are clamping down industry that is desperately in need,” Trump said.
When a reporter sought to clarify if the president was only considering limiting flights directly between hot spots or if it was broader than that, the president replied, “We are looking at the whole thing because we are getting into a position now where we want to do that---we have to do that. We're looking at the whole thing."
Trump has yet to issue a national "stay at home" order, instead leaving the decision up to the states. The president defended the decision not to implement an overarching order, saying states are all different.
"There are some states that are different. There are some states that don't have much of a problem. They don't have thousands of people that are positive," Trump said. "You have to look -- you have to give a little flexibility."
It's tough to tell states to "close it down," Trump said. The president has often prioritized economic impact as long as he could in making decisions about the disease.
Earlier in the day, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a mandatory stay-at-home order for the state of Florida starting Thursday at midnight, after resisting calls for weeks and leaving state beaches open amid criticism. DeSantis has previously said that if the White House task force had recommended a statewide order, "that's something that would carry a lot of weight with me." He said he had talked about doing so with the White House and Trump.
Trump said he would "absolutely" speak with former Vice President Joe Biden about the coronavirus response, after the Democratic front-runner's campaign released an earlier statement saying that Biden would like to talk to the president.
"If he would like to call, I'd absolutely take his call," Trump said, adding that he always found Biden to be "a nice guy."
Meanwhile, more data showing people without symptoms are fueling the spread has top officials rethinking whether the general public should be wearing masks.
Trump signaled at Wednesday's briefing that he is open to the idea of Americans wearing face coverings in public. The task force could issue formal guidance on the matter soon, people familiar with the matter said.
While a fabric covering of the nose and mouth could prevent the virus from reaching other people, some members of the task force have cautioned in meetings that it could lull Americans into a false sense of protection and prevent them from socially distancing.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams confirmed Wednesday that the federal government has "asked the CDC to take another look at whether or not having more people wear masks will prevent transmission of the disease to other people," while stressing the general public should not wear N95 masks.
"If you take one of those N95 masks, you may be taking it out of the hands of a health care worker who desperately needs it to care for patients," he added.