During a visit to a mask factory in Arizona, President Donald Trump brushed off a question about whether disbanding the taskforce would represent a “mission accomplished moment”, a reference to George W. Bush’s infamously premature celebration of victory after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Trump, making his first trip outside the US capital region since the pandemic began, said the mission would only be accomplished once the virus was defeated.
While some expressed fear that disbanding the taskforce would marginalise experts such as Birx and Fauci, Trump said he would still seek advice from them when required.
He conceded that some people would be “badly affected” as normal economic activity returns, but that it was important to get the country back to work.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said Trump was leading Americans down the “potential path of slaughter” by encouraging states to reopen their economies before the virus is suppressed.
But some Republicans have welcomed the prospect of public health experts such as Birx and Fauci having less influence over government policy.
“Give them the gold watch and say, ‘Thank you, exit stage left’,” Republican congressman Andy Biggs told the Fox Across America radio program over the weekend.
“It’s time for them to go out and be quarantined without a government paycheck and see how they like that. We’ll see how they like it.”
The US recorded 2527 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST), the third highest daily total since the outbreak began. The country has passed the figure of 70,000 deaths, with public health modellers now projecting around 135,000 people will die by August.
While new confirmed cases are declining in the epicentre of New York, they are rising in the rest of the country – possibly as a result of increased testing.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement: “The United States nationally is in the acceleration phase of the pandemic.”
The White House has recently shifted its focus away from public health to the reopening of the economy.
“We did everything right, but now it’s time to go back to work,” Trump said before leaving for Arizona. “We have to open our country.”
Daniel Wessel, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said: “Donald Trump is knowingly putting American lives at risk to further his political interests – it’s as simple as that.
“Trump has declared ‘mission accomplished’ while the virus continues to spread, and he just admitted that a rush to reopen the country too quickly could cause unnecessary deaths.
“This level of neglect is astonishing even for a president who has always put himself first.”
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.