Donald Trump attempted to discredit media reports of his administration’s failures in the Covid-19 pandemic as he called some outlets in the White House press corps “fake news” at his daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday.
In a rambling introduction to a lengthy and combative briefing the president cited media reports on shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment and said some state governors had asked for more supplies than they need.
The White House’s own projections show 100,000 Americans could be killed by the virus. On Saturday, Trump said: “There will be a lot of death”.
“It’s therefore critical certain media outlets stop spreading false information,” he said. “I could name them, but it’s the same ones, always the same ones.”
“It’s so bad for our country, so bad for the world.”
Trump then accused state governors of asking for materials which he argued they did not need.
“Many of their cupboards were bare,” he said.
Trump’s administration has sought to redefine the national strategic stockpile as a “back up” for states, and avoid co-ordinating a response to the pandemic.
Earlier, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his state, which has been especially hard-hit, had looked to China for ventilator supplies.
“We’re not yet at the apex,” said Cuomo, who described the crescendo of cases to come as “the number one point of engagement of the enemy”.
Cuomo said he had obtained 1,000 ventilators from the Chinese government with the help of billionaires Joseph and Clara Tsai and Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Oregon had loaned New York another 140, he said.
At the White House, Trump said: “We have given the governor of New York more than anybody has been given in a long time. I think he’s happy… I wouldn’t say gracious.”
He also tried to claim credit for the 1,000 ventilators sent to New York by China and said, “two very good friends of mine brought him those ventilators”.
Cuomo put the New York case load at 113,704 and the death toll at 3,565, most in New York City but with nearly 1,000 deaths in other parts of the state. At lunchtime on Saturday, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland put the national toll at nearly 279,000 cases and 7,170 deaths.
Current projections put the peak of the pandemic in New York between four and 14 days away. Officials hope physical distancing across the state will slow the spread of the disease and forestall the possibility of running out of ventilators and hospital beds.
Cuomo admitted he hoped to see the apex soon, so the experience would soon end. The pandemic, “stresses this country, this state, in a way nothing else has frankly in my lifetime”, he said.
Cuomo’s briefing from the New York state capital, Albany, offered another contrast in leadership between governor and president. While Cuomo’s briefings convey alarming statistics, his frank descriptions of shortages and personal struggles have been praised.
Cuomo said the state had a signed contract for 17,000 ventilators, which he was later told could not be filled because many had already been purchased by China.
Trump retweeted articles about hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria, and then promoted the unproven drug again at the press briefing. Some researchers believe the drug shows promise as a possible treatment for Covid-19 but so far studies lack control groups and are therefore treated as anecdotal. There is no known therapeutic for Covid-19, and no vaccine.
The US federal government’s response to the outbreak has been defined by bungled testing, poor coordination, low stockpiles and planning failures. Federal failure to intervene in supply chains has led to bidding wars for masks and other personal protective equipment, governors have said.
The White House has repeatedly claimed it has 10,000 ventilators in a strategic national stockpile. However, states have reported some of those ventilators are unusable, after the Trump administration failed to ensure the stockpile was properly maintained.
Trump has repeatedly caused confusion, often following hours-long, rambling press conferences featuring attacks on the media. At one such briefing on Friday, the president said he would not follow the advice of his own health department, and wear a mask in public.
“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure,” Trump told reporters.
“This is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”