WASHINGTON — The message was simple, even if it might prove difficult to follow: “Avoid crowds,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on Monday morning.
She was speaking shortly after the United States recorded its 500th case of the disease — and the 19th fatality.
Also as she was speaking, President Trump was holding a reelection event in Orlando. Disembarking from Air Force One, he proceeded to shake hands with supporters, in contravention of another public health warning. Even his vice president, Mike Pence, who closely follows the president’s guidance, has resorted to elbow bumps.
The arrival of the coronavirus threatens to upend much of American public life. That includes potential disruptions to how Trump and his Democratic rivals — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden — conduct their race for the White House.
Rallies are, of course, the staple of any election effort. Sanders and Biden both had large rallies over the weekend.
At the same time, avoiding large crowds is the staple of any effort to fight a contagious disease. Responding to its own burgeoning coronavirus crisis, France has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, with some exceptions. Other nations, including China and Italy, have placed regions under lockdown.
There is no indication that the United States is contemplating similar steps, but Messonnier and others have been preparing Americans for a long, hard fight — even as Trump and his allies have tried to minimize the scope of the outbreak.
“There are personal responsibilities that we are asking everyone in the United States to take,” she said during the Monday call with reporters, though in response to a later question she did not say that large events should be canceled.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Trump reelection campaign or the campaigns of Sanders or Biden.
Trump did address the issue over the weekend. “We will have tremendous rallies,” he said, “and we’re doing very well and we’ve done a fantastic job with respect to that subject on the virus.”
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