Trump showed no sign of acknowledging the magnitude of the crisis as he welcomed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) at the White House and praised what he called a “fantastic job” in turning around what had been among the nation’s worst spikes in virus cases and deaths.
“He has done an incredible job on covid, or covid-19, or about 19 other names you can call it. It’s got probably more names than anything else you can think of,” Trump said.
“And he was hit very hard, and . . . he hit back even harder,” Trump said of Ducey, a political ally who had lifted many restrictions in late spring in accordance with Trump’s wishes for rapid economic reopening.
The White House endorsement comes even as Arizona continues to suffer the effects of a virus that has no vaccine and no widely effective treatment. The state is now averaging some 14,000 to 16,000 new cases a week.
Earlier Wednesday, in wide-ranging, often erroneous comments on “Fox & Friends,” Trump claimed the virus was spreading in a “relatively small portion” of the country (it is spreading nearly everywhere); said children are “virtually immune” to the virus (they are not); and once again insisted the outbreak “will go away like things go away.”
The White House touted Arizona as a model for managing the crisis without mandatory lockdowns or what Trump called “overly punitive measures.” The state is also a cautionary tale about the rapid lifting of restrictions meant to slow the spread of disease.
Ducey had lifted stay-at-home orders in early May, making the state among the first to reopen. Arizona saw an increase of more than 800 percent in coronavirus cases between then and early July, when Ducey refused to reimpose stay-at-home orders or mandate masks. He had, however, already closed bars, nightclubs and gyms.
New infections have been falling in the state for several weeks, along with deaths. Ducey and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, attributed this to a mix of voluntary actions by Arizonans and some state restrictions.
“We were in the unhappy but responsible position of dispersing large crowds. So, bars and nightclubs and gyms, all closed temporarily,” Ducey said. “But upon putting those steps out there, we’ve seen improvement every week, week over week, for four weeks. We’re going to keep our guard up, we’re going to stay vigilant, but there’s a real path forward.”
Ducey added that a goal for the state is “safely and successfully getting our kids back to school at the appropriate time.”
Although Trump is pushing for students to return to in-person learning immediately, Arizona has delayed classes, many of which would have already begun this week, at least until later this month.
Arizona reached a peak of 4,800 newly reported cases on July 1, with its seven-day average of new cases declining from a high of more than 3,800 on July 6 to just under 2,000 average new cases through Aug. 4. That average includes 1,700 cases reported on Wednesday, but while 1,046 of those are from tests taken within the past seven days, the rest were taken more than a week ago, with 272 of the new cases coming from tests taken more than 15 days ago.
The delay in test reporting also makes it unclear how many tests are now being taken across Arizona. More than 120,000 test results have been reported from the last week in June, while under 58,000 have been reported from the week ending Aug. 1 and only 5,900 from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.
The state’s daily numbers on currently hospitalized patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have also dropped from a high of 3,517 on July 14 to 1,945 as of Aug. 4. However, the state has also recently reported large jumps in its cumulative number of hospitalized covid-19 patients since the start of the epidemic, from 5,942 on July 14 to more than 13,500 through Aug. 4.
There were 87 new deaths reported Wednesday, for a total of 3,932. The seven-day average of newly reported deaths began climbing from the low 20s in late June to a high of 83 per day on July 21, and has since settled in the high 60s, though the state’s daily numbers can range widely, from its single-day high of 172 on Thursday to 14 on Sunday.
Birx said Ducey’s experience shows “you can keep a state open and keep retail open,” with precautions. Those include the customary wearing of face masks to reduce transmission of the virus, advice that has yielded strong political backlash among some of the president’s supporters.
Ducey and Trump did not wear a mask during the portion of the Oval Office meeting seen by reporters, though Birx did wear one. Neither Ducey nor Trump wore masks during joint appearances when Trump visited the state in late June, as the caseload was approaching its peak.
Arizona is considered a swing state in the Nov. 3 election, although most polls show Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
In other developments, Biden will not travel to Milwaukee to accept the Democratic presidential nomination because of virus concerns, convention organizers confirmed Wednesday.
Biden will deliver his speech accepting the nomination later this month in his home state of Delaware, organizers said.
The move marks the latest disruption in plans for what is typically a political festival but is now being conducted almost entirely virtually. It comes after Trump, who had attempted to hold the Republican National Convention in Charlotte and then Jacksonville, Fla., began exploring the option of delivering his speech from the South Lawn at the White House.
White House officials and Democratic leaders say they have agreed to try to finalize the details of a new coronavirus relief package by the end of this week. The legislation, which will address lapsed unemployment benefits and eviction restrictions, could go before Congress for a vote next week.
Trump indicated support Wednesday for renewing enhanced unemployment benefits that have expired for 30 million workers, saying he wants to “get funds to people so they can live.” In the Fox News interview, he also said he didn’t want the benefits to be structured in a way that he believed would “disincentivize” people from going back to work.
Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school system, said Wednesday it will reopen with all classes remote, the latest district to walk away from even part-time, in-person education.
Chicago had planned a hybrid system in which students would learn inside buildings on certain days and from home on others, an effort to reduce the number of people in the buildings at any given time. But like many other systems, including D.C. Public Schools and school districts in the Washington-area suburbs, Chicago Public Schools backed off and is now planning fully remote instruction.
Most large school systems are doing the same, although New York City — by far the largest district in the country — still plans a hybrid system. Teachers unions and others there are pressing New York to back down, but so far it plans to stick with its approach, citing the vast negative impacts of remote education.
Two major U.S. carriers, JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines, announced plans Wednesday to tighten their mask requirements.
Both airlines said they are prohibiting face coverings with exhalation valves or vents. They also will no longer allow customers to claim exemptions to wearing a mask, joining American, Southwest and Spirit airlines. Delta allows “rare” exemptions, but it recently began requiring passengers seeking one to complete a “Clearance-To-Fly” screening with a medical professional.
John Wagner, Lateshia Beachum and Tony Romm contributed to this report.