"The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics," the president tweeted

By Sean Neumann
May 06, 2020 03:30 PM
Deborah Birx
President Donald Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, at a coronavirus briefing on April 6.
| Credit: Alex Brandon/AP/Shutterstock

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that his administration's coronavirus task force "will continue on indefinitely," reversing his and Vice President Mike Pence's comments on Tuesday that the group could wind down its work in the coming weeks.

Trump now says the coronavirus task force's mission may instead shift toward focusing on vaccinations and treatments and that his administration might "add and subtract" some members.

"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," Trump tweeted, in part. "The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics."

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, he explained his changing opinion.

"At a certain point it'll end. Things end. But we'll be adding some people to the task force .... I thought we could wind it down sooner, but I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday when I started talking about winding it down," he said. "I get calls from very respected people saying, 'I think it would be better to keep it going, it's done such a good job.' It's a respected task force. I know it myself."

On Tuesday, Pence, 60, told reporters the administration was "starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window" in terms of a timeframe to end the coronavirus task force and shift the federal government's focus and "begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner" through other agencies.

"I think we’re having conversations about that and about what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency-by-agency level," Pence said then. "And we’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan."

Trump, 73, appeared to support Pence's update when he told reporters on Tuesday that "we will have something in a different form."

He again pushed for the U.S. economy to reopen sooner rather than later, in light of millions of people being out of work even though the still-spreading virus has killed more than 70,000 people.

“We can’t keep our country closed," Trump said Tuesday. "We have to open our country.”

On Wednesday morning, even as he reversed his position, he touted his record against the virus thus far, boasting of his work with the ventilator supply, for example. (The administration has also faced heavy scrutiny over problems with testing and the president's mixed messaging, including suggesting injections of disinfectant could be a treatment.)

Trump tweeted that 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."

coronavirus briefing
Vice President Mike Pence looks on as President Donald Trump speaks to the media on April 6 at the White House.
| Credit: Vice President Mike Pence (left) and President Donald Trump during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing in April
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx
From left: Coronavirus task force members Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

Individual states are in charge of returning to normal life and resuming business and schools as they deem fit, given their specific number of infections and other public health factors.

The federal government's social distancing guidelines expired at the end of April. The White House also created a suggested three-phase plan to help states strategize how to reopen.

While some states are already taking different approaches to returning to normalcy – with some still under stay-at-home orders and others without them federal health officials continue to warn against reopening too soon so as to prevent a deadly spike in cases that could overwhelm hospitals before treatments and a vaccine are developed.

More than one million people across the U.S. have been confirmed to have had the coronavirus, according to a New York Times tracker.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious disease and one of the leading medical voices on Trump's task force, told The Washington Post on Tuesday:“I’ve always said if you do that prematurely, you run the risk of there being rebound and [an] increase in cases."

"How many cases there are going to be, how many deaths, I can’t predict," he said.

The number of U.S. cases are growing nationwide by 2-to-4 percent every day, and the number of deaths still averages nearly 2,000 per day, according to a New York Times analysis.

“I think that, as far as the task force, Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, according to NBC. "But we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening, and we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.