White House seeks to focus on economy despite high rate of infection

US president Donald Trump said he planned to wind down the White House coronavirus task force led by vice president Mike Pence as the country shifts into a new phase focusing on the aftermath of the outbreak.
Despite growing evidence that the pandemic is still raging, Trump administration officials said on Tuesday they had made so much progress in bringing it under control they intended to disband the task force and focus the White House on restarting the economy.
Mr Pence, who has led the task force for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May and shift management of the public health response back to the federal agencies whose work it was created to coordinate.
When asked why it was time to wind down the task force, Mr Trump said, we cant keep our country closed for the next five years.
Other administration officials said that under plans still in discussion, the White House would consult with medical experts on a more informal basis and that Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law and senior adviser, would help oversee a group pushing for progress in developing a vaccine and treatments for the virus.
It really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress weve made as a country, Mr Pence told reporters at the White House. His comments came a day after the revelation of new estimates that suggest deaths from the coronavirus, now above 70,000, could double by early August and that infection rates may rise sharply as businesses reopen.
While the number of new cases logged daily in the New York City area is declining, new cases continue to grow across the rest of the United States.
With Mr Trump facing a tough reelection battle, the White House appears intent on putting a response to the daily death toll more toward the background as it emphasises efforts at a return to economic and job growth. The presidents advisers have repeatedly tried to place the responsibility for testing and decisions about reopening on individual states.
The task force spent some of its time preparing talking points for Mr Trump, who took over its public briefings, often turning them into lengthy opportunities to air grievances, praise his own handling of the crisis and offer up his own prescriptions.
There were signals in recent days of the task forces impending demise: The panel did not meet on Saturday, as it typically does, and cancelled a meeting on Monday. And the president has stopped linking his news briefings to the task forces meetings and no longer routinely arrays task force members around him in his public appearances, a change that came swiftly after he mused one day about the possibility of injecting disinfectants to kill the virus.
Members of the coronavirus task force, including Dr Deborah L Birx, the White Houses coronavirus response coordinator, had to urge Americans not to take those steps. And they often served as a public check on Mr Trumps questionable or false statements, cautioning about promises of a quick vaccine or the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by the president.
The decision to phase out the task force has prompted new questions about whether the administration will be adequately organized to address the complex, life-or-death decisions related to the virus and give sufficient voice to scientists and public health experts.
We will have something in a different form, Mr Trump told reporters during a trip to Arizona.
White House officials said that medical officials such as Dr Birx would still be advising the president and be available to answer reporters questions. Still, the change means a growing role for Mr Kushner, who is looking for a czarlike appointee to oversee the development of a vaccine and therapeutic treatments, as well as for top economic officials like treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House advisers Larry Kudlow and Kevin Hassett.
Since it was formed in January, the task force has been the scene of bureaucratic and policy battling, its influence only as great as Trumps episodic willingness to accept its advice.
The task force has been hampered by inconsistent messaging, said Dr Joshua M Sharfstein, a former top Food and Drug Administration official who teaches on public health crises at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There were too many times when what the scientists said and what the president said were at odds.
At various moments, different splinter groups separate from the task force have met elsewhere in the White House, including the one led by Mr Kushner, which focused on testing and then supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators. Another has been led by Joe Grogan, the chief of the White House Domestic Policy Council who plans to leave his post this month. New York Times