The White House coronavirus task force is set to wind down in the weeks ahead as the administration looks to shift focus from the day-to-day public health response toward an economic reopening of the country, multiple senior officials told ABC News.
President Trump defended the decision while in Arizona Tuesday, even as the rate of new cases continues to climb in parts of the country, saying the United States is moving into a new phase of the fight against the virus and "we’ll have something in another form."
"I think we are looking at phase two and we’re looking at other phases. The country is starting to open up, the task force has done a phenomenal job," Trump said.
"Mike and the task force have done a great job, but we’re looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening, and we’ll have a different group, probably, set up for that," Trump said.
The president did not elaborate on what the "different group" may look like but said -- even with the health focused group winding down -- top experts will continue to be involved in White House decision-making.
"They will be and so will other doctors and so will other experts in the field," the president answered. "We are bringing our country back."
Asked why now is the time to wind down the task force, even as the virus persists, Trump emphasized the economic interests demand a reopening of the country and expressed optimism in the ability to keep the virus under control moving forward.
"Well because we can’t keep our country closed for the next five years, you can say there will be a recurrence and there might be, you know, some doctors, most doctors will say that will happen, and it’ll be a flame and we’re going to put out the flame," Trump said.
Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that there are discussions underway about disbanding the coronavirus task force.
"We're having conversations about that," Pence told a group of reporters, his spokesperson said.
"I think we’re having conversations about that and about what the proper time is for the task force to complete its work and for the ongoing efforts to take place on an agency-by-agency level. And we’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan with FEMA," the vice president said.
"We're starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window as a time when we could begin to transition back to having our agencies begin to manage -- begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner," he added.
The news was first reported by the New York Times.
President Trump has shown an eagerness for the country to get back to work, expressing optimism that the virus can be successfully contained even as the country begins to return to normal functions.
The move comes as the rate of new infections continues to rise in much of the country, even as some early U.S. hotspots have begun to bring the virus under control.
A senior White House official stressed the move does not mean that the doctors -- like Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci -- are being pushed out, adding that they will still be involved and advising the administration.
"Members of the Pence-led task force will continue providing input, though the group will not be meeting in person as regularly as the focus changes toward vaccines, therapeutics, testing, and ultimately re-opening the economy," the senior White House official said.
"Again, to emphasize, doctors will still be providing consultation as we respond to the pandemic. At the same time, the task force was always a temporary arrangement and was never designed for the Vice President to be leading in person meetings daily for several months on end."
The White House coronavirus task force was formally announced on Jan. 29. The group, led by Vice President Pence, meets almost daily in the White House Situation Room.
During the first two months of the crisis, the task briefed reporters nearly every day, sometimes for nearly two hours or more, about the coronavirus developments.
What to know about the coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
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