WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the coronavirus outbreak would “go away” and urged Americans to remain calm as cases jumped and the White House came under mounting pressure to boost its response to the health and economic crisis.
A steady rise in the number of U.S. cases of COVID-19, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness, has concerned health officials and spurred calls within Congress for action to expand testing and avert an economic meltdown.
About three quarters of U.S. states now have confirmed COVID-19 with over 800 Americans infected, Washington state’s governor warned of tens of thousands more cases without “real action” and New York’s governor deployed National Guard troops as a containment measure in a hard-hit New York City suburb.
“It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” Trump said after a meeting on Capitol Hill with Republican lawmakers. “We want to protect our shipping industry, our cruise industry, cruise ships. We want to protect our airlines industry.”
Trump, who in the past two days has broached a payroll tax cut and relief for companies hard hit by coronavirus fears, offered no specific details on what had been discussed in a meeting with his top economic officials.
Democrats accused Trump, a Republican, of being more focused on soothing Wall Street’s nerves after another stock market plunge on Monday than on protecting the public from the health and economic fallout of the fast-spreading epidemic.
“President Trump and his administration should be putting people before corporations, and they should be focused on taking appropriate steps to keep the American people and their economic security safe,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Democrats are pushing for paid sick leave, expanded and free testing for the coronavirus and other measures.
Senate Republicans said they hoped the administration could reach a deal with House Democrats for an economic relief package, including a possible $300 billion in payroll tax relief that could and help people make rent and mortgage payments, or pay medical bills if family members’ work hours are reduced during the outbreak.
The White House has come under attack for a lack of epidemic preparation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and early problems with their coronavirus test kits that delayed confirmation of results.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the government’s response to the outbreak, said more than 1 million test kits for the coronavirus were in the field and that 4 million more were going out this week. “We want people to get tested,” he said after he and Trump met with health insurer executives.
Pence announced that private U.S. health insurers had agreed to extend coronavirus treatment coverage in all of their plans and waive co-payment fees for testing. He did not mention the millions of uninsured Americans.
Major U.S. stock indexes were up 4% on Tuesday, recouping some of Monday’s steep sell-off.
More than 116,000 people have contracted the coronavirus worldwide with over 4,000 deaths since it surfaced in China late last year, according to the World Health Organization. It has spread to more than 100 nations. Italy, which has the highest death toll outside of China, has put its entire population of 60 million on virtual lockdown.
Along with the more than 800 U.S. cases, there have been 28 deaths, most of them in Washington state, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. New Jersey on Tuesday reported its first coronavirus death.
At least 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have reported infections of COVID-19.
Washington state has been hardest hit, with a nursing home in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland accounting for the bulk of the state’s 22 confirmed deaths.
Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday said he was considering “real action” to prevent a rapid increase of cases in the state. Asked whether he was considering mandatory measures to slow the virus, he said: “I would not be shocked if we have some news on that in the next few days.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said schools would be closed and public gatherings suspended in a coronavirus “hot zone” in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb, and deployed National Guard troops there. New York state has one of the highest numbers of cases, most of them in and around New Rochelle.
The United Nations announced that it would be closing its headquarters in New York to the public until further notice.
In California, the Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland continued offloading its 2,400 passengers, most of whom will go into quarantine at military bases. The vessel was barred from returning to San Francisco last week due to a coronavirus outbreak on board.
The governors of North Carolina and Colorado on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in their states.
As the outbreak spreads, daily life in United States has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences canceled, and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.
U.S. health officials have urged older people, especially those with chronic medical concerns, to avoid big social gatherings, cruise ships and airline flights.
“Not every community has an outbreak going on right now, but people should know that this is likely to get worse before it gets better,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Andrea Shalal, David Lawder and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Deborah Bloom in Olympia, Washington and Nathan Layne and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Bill Berkrot