As stocks dive and coronavirus spreads, Trump compares COVID-19 to common flu

Trading was halted Monday after a 2,000 point drop in the Dow.

March 9, 2020, 10:57 PM

  • Trump blames news media and Democrats for inflaming the novel coronavirus crisis
  • Stock market plunges more than 2,000 points Monday morning
  • Democrats propose sweeping list of stimulus measures, including paid sick leave
  • At least five GOP members of Congress self-quarantine after CPAC attendee they interacted with tests positive for coronavirus
  • Azar appears to walk back Trump's comments at CDC that 'anyone who wants a test can get a test" and that they are 'perfect'

President Donald Trump descends from Air Force One at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Fla., March 9, 2020.
Tom Brenner/Reuters

As global markets continue to tank, with Wall Street trading halted after the Dow Jones Industrial Average dove more than 2,000 points, and as at least 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia reporting cases of the novel coronavirus President Donald Trump on Monday doubled down on downplaying the crisis, blaming the news media and the Democratic Party for hyping the outbreak and repeating that the risk is still "low to the average American."

"The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, 'The risk is low to the average American,'" Trump tweeted Monday morning before the markets opened.

Later, about an hour after the markets plunged, Trump continued to engage in a confused narrative about the crisis, downplaying the situation and often putting him at odds with the messaging that his own health experts are trying to get across.

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"So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!," the president tweeted, appearing to attempt to calm fears as the global markets plummeted.

Less than 10 minutes before Trump tweeted that "the economy will go on," and characterized the coronavirus as less dangerous than the common flu, Health and Human Secretary Alex Azar told Fox News, "Make no mistake, this is a very serious health problem. Nobody is trying to minimize that. It is a very serious public health threat to the people of the United States."

"President Trump is leading a whole of government response with the vice president helping him on the public health issues we're facing with the novel coronavirus. That is his number one concern in terms of the economy. He and his economic team have the tools to keep this economy going strong," Azar then told reporters at the White House Monday. "But the public heath and protecting the American people is the number one priority for all of us."

Trump also added that closing the U.S. borders to China travel was the "BEST decision" -- although since that action weeks ago -- cases of community transmission -- person to person inside the United States -- not connected to China -- continue to rise.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters upon arrival at the Orlando Sanford International Airport, March 9, 2020 in Orlando, Fla.
Alex Brandon/AP

He could be seen shaking hands with supporters Monday morning in Orlando, Florida, against the advice of health experts, as he headed to a fundraiser.

President Trump promises "major" economic plans to deal with coronavirus

Following a closed White House meeting, Trump and the coronavirus task force held a press briefing late Monday evening to lay out a new pitch to Congress and the latest on the virus' economic impact.

The president announced that he and his administration will propose a "possible" payroll tax cut as well as assistance for hourly wage earners.

"We are going to be asking tomorrow -- we're seeing the Senate, going to be meeting with House Republicans, Mitch McConnell, everybody -- and discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief -- very substantial relief -- that's a big number," he said. "We're also going to be talking about hourly wage earners getting help so that they can be in a position where they're not going to ever miss a paycheck."

After the Dow dropped more than 2,000 points, Trump also promised a small business loan program and vowed to help those industries hardest hit.

"We're also working with the industries including the airline industry, the cruise ship industry -- which obviously will be hit. We're working with them very, very strongly," the president said. "We're also talking to the hotel industry and some places actually will do well and some places probably won't do well at all but we're working also with the hotel industry. But the main thing is that we're taking care of the American public and we will be taking care of the American public."

A White House official announced that top Wall Street executives have been invited to a meeting at the White House with Trump on Wednesday.

Late Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission directed employees in its Washington headquarters to telework because an employee there was treated for respiratory symptoms and referred by a physician to be tested for COVID-19.

Coronavirus compared to seasonal flu

Over the weekend, while reported U.S. cases increased to more than 550 with at least 22 deaths in the U.S. across at least 34 states, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams claimed that the virus was being contained in some areas, comparing it to a seasonal flu.

"If we had massive numbers of cases we would be seeing more deaths. And so we actually feel pretty good that some parts of the country have contained it just like when you look at the flu," Adams said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday. "When we look at the flu tracker, some parts of the country are having much more severe flu seasons. Some are having very mild flu seasons. The same thing for coronavirus."

When asked if Trump or Democratic candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, -- all in their 70s and technically higher risk -- should stop traveling or holding rallies in light of the outbreak, Adams downplayed the threat to the president, saying Trump has been washing his hands frequently.

"But speaking of being at risk, the president, he sleeps less than I do and he's healthier than what I am," Adams, who is in his mid-40s, said.

Adams walked back his comments on Twitter Monday morning, calling it an "inelegant comparison."

"I should not have made this comparison. I was wrong," Adams said. "What's most concerning is we need to get information out to the American people about coronavirus, but some would rather focus on my inelegant comparison versus the info about who is at risk for coronavirus -- which was the most important part of the interview."

Trump admin walks back president's comments at CDC

The administration continued to send contradictory signals over the weekend about its response to the coronavirus, after Trump claimed during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday that "anyone who wants a test can get a test."

President Donald Trump displays a photo of the COVID-19 Coronavirus during a tour of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, March 6, 2020.
Tom Brenner/Reuters

"As of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test (can have one), that's the important thing, and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect," Trump said, seeming to clap back to his phone call with the president of Ukraine that triggered his impeachment. "They have the tests and the tests are beautiful."

Trump added that the government's testing capacity is "amazing," but that notion has been widely disputed by scientists and health officials who have expressed alarm over the speed with which the CDC has tested and over the quality of its tests.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared to walk back the president's comments Saturday, cautioning that everyone will not be automatically approved for a test.

"You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test," Azar said at an off-camera briefing at the White House. "That is our medical system in the United States, in the same way that you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn't prescribe that."

A growing list of lawmakers self-quarantining themselves

When Trump was asked Saturday about the coronavirus getting closer to the White House, the president said, "I'm not concerned at all."

By Monday, four Republican members of Congress -- incoming White House chief of staff and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz -- announced they would self-quarantine after they interacted briefly with a person infected by the novel coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland late February. Rep. Louie Gohmert was also in contact with the CPAC attendee who tested positive for COVID-19, but was on Capitol Hill Monday after he said a CDC doctor informed him that he shouldn't be at any risk.

Gaetz and Collins were in Florida with the president over the weekend.

President Donald Trump greets Rep. Doug Collins as he arrives on Air Force One, March 6, 2020, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga.
Alex Brandon/AP

Despite concerns that administration officials were exposed to COVID-19 at CPAC in Maryland late February, senior White House sources told ABC News that Trump and his closest advisers have not been tested for coronavirus.

At a press briefing Monday afternoon Vice President Mike Pence said he hadn't been tested and late Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement confirming that Trump had not been tested either.

"The President has not received COVID-19 testing because he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms. President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to closely monitor him," according to the statement. "Per current CDC guidelines, medical professionals should base testing decisions on patient symptoms and exposure history."

Separately, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., closed her Washington office for the week and was remaining at home after meeting with someone who tested positive for the new coronavirus. In a statement, she said she is not experiencing any symptoms.

House Speaker Pelosi proposes to send more relief to families affected by the coronavirus outbreak

Before a meeting with Democratic leaders to discuss the Congressional response to COVID-19, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters late Monday she is rallying her caucus behind a proposal to provide more relief to families facing the coronavirus outbreak.

"These are additional. This is about the families. We're about putting families first. If your children's school is closed, who's going to take care of them at home? If kids are dependent on food at school, how are they going to have food security?” She said. "So addresses some of those things, paid family leave -- for the purpose of the coronavirus, unemployment insurance in case your company just folds, although we had in our bill SBA loans for helping to sustain a workforce" Pelosi said.

"So it's about how we protect the families and how we protect the workers, the health care providers and the rest in the atmospheres in which they're working,” she continued.

Pelosi also stressed that any decision to close the Capitol due to concerns over coronavirus will be based on science.

"At this time there is no reason to do so, but it's not my decision. It's a security and the health decision and we'll be depending on the experts" she said.

President Donald Trump signs an emergency funding bill to combat COVID-19, coronavirus, as Health Secretary Alex Azar looks on in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, March 6, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Fauci: "Anything is possible" on shutting down coronavirus epicenters in U.S. in mitigation efforts

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that he doubted the U.S. would have to impose measures as "draconian" as total shutdowns ordered in regions in northern Italy to halt the spread of coronavirus but admitted that "anything is possible."

"We have to be realistic. I don't think it would be as draconian as nobody in or nobody out. But if we continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what we call 'mitigation,' where we have to essentially do social distancing, keep people out of crowded places, take a look at seriousness, do you really need to travel, and I think it's particularly important among the most vulnerable," Fauci said on "Fox News Sunday."

"You don't want to alarm people, but given the spread we've seen anything is possible and that's why we've got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak," he added.

Trump campaign: "Proceeding as normal"

Trump does not currently have a campaign rally scheduled ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary contests, marking the first time he hasn't held a counter programming rally all primary season.

However, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News on Saturday that they were "proceeding as normal" with the reelection events despite the fact that, in the last week, Washington, New York and California have all declared states of emergency and other events with large gatherings -- like the technology. music and film South by Southwest -- are being canceled across the country.

"We will announce rallies when we are ready to do so. President Trump had a town hall this week, a fundraiser and we have loads of campaign events on the event schedule on the website," Erin Perrine, the Trump campaign's principal deputy communications director told ABC News.

In fact, a senior campaign official told ABC News, that the president's next rally should be announced Tuesday.

Democrats propose paid-sick leave among "people-based initiatives"

Democrats have criticized the Trump administration for sending mixed messages on the coronavirus and have suggested a sweeping list of stimulus measures in light of the outbreak.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi released a joint statement Sunday night urging Trump to prioritize the needs of American workers and their families before the needs of major corporations in their response to the outbreak, proposing "people-based initiatives" including paid family leave, free coronavirus testing and anti-price gouging protections, among others.

"We are hoping to work with the administration on a coordinated, government-wide plan to respond to the coronavirus. We are pleased that we passed an emergency response bill on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis that provided a significant increase in resources beyond the Administration's request," their statement read.

"However, President Trump continues to manufacture needless chaos within his administration and it is hampering the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. In light of reports that the Trump administration is considering new tax cuts for major corporations impacted by the coronavirus, we are demanding that the administration prioritize the health and safety of American workers and their families over corporate interests."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks during a news conference, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 11, 2020.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

China to Pompeo: Stop calling the novel coronavirus the "Wuhan virus"

China's Foreign Ministry criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday for calling the novel coronavirus the "Wuhan virus," referring to the city in China where the outbreak first appeared.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang noted that the World Health Organization has said that the virus should be referred to as the "novel coronavirus" and not by a geographic name, adding that Pompeo was attempting to slander China's efforts, according to the Washington Post.

"We condemn the despicable practice of individual U.S. politicians eagerly stigmatizing China and Wuhan by association with the novel coronavirus, disrespecting science and WHO," Geng said at a news conference in Hong Kong Monday. "The international society has a fair judgment, and Pompeo's attempts of slandering China's efforts in combating the epidemic is doomed to fail."

Pompeo used the term "Wuhan virus" and "Wuhan coronavirus" to refer to the novel coronavirus at least twice last week. Separately, on Sunday night, Arizona GOP Rep. Paul A. Gosar announced that he would self-quarantine due to possible exposure to what he called the "Wuhan virus," sparking criticism from users on Twitter, accusing the congressman of enticing racism against the country.

Coronavirus could present a "leadership opportunity"

Former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday that, if handled correctly, the outbreak could be a "leadership opportunity" for the president and that as the number of cases rise, people should prepare for an environment of exponential growth in cases.

"This is a leadership opportunity for the president to paint for the American people a picture of what it's going to look like in a number of week, month, up to a year," Bossert said. "We don't have a crystal ball but that's what leaders are for and I think it's fair to say without being an alarmist that at least the math, at least the numbers suggest that we are anywhere from eight days to would weeks from being in an exponential growth environment."

ABC News' Kyra Phillips, Trish Turner, Anne Flaherty, Bobby Gehlen and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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