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Trump shuts down Dr. Fauci's cautions on drug unproven for coronavirus

President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the

President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious diseases expert, at Sunday's briefing. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Eric Baradat

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates

Doesn't want a second opinion

"What do I know? I'm not a doctor," said President Donald Trump. But that didn't stop him from carrying on an extended monologue to tout and encourage wider use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine against coronavirus.

Anthony Fauci is a doctor of medicine and the government's top infectious diseases expert. But when a reporter at Sunday night's White House coronavirus briefing asked for Fauci's opinion on Trump's prescription, the president jumped in and wouldn't let Fauci respond. “He's answered that question 15 times,” Trump said (video clip here).

Fauci's answers always have been the same — to raise cautions that the drug now undergoing clinical trials for COVID-19 is unproven for that disease. But Trump has grown weary of hearing that as deaths surge, more hot spots of infection emerge and his goal of restarting the economy seems more distant. Trump said the federal government has purchased and stockpiled 29 million doses of the drug, which is approved for use to treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

"I have seen people who are going to die without it," Trump said, and "we don't have time" for tests and labs to figure out if it is effective. He added: "If it works, that will be great. If it doesn't … it doesn't kill people." The president said he was speaking from "common sense," not medical expertise. Several times, Trump said, "What do you have to lose?" Doctors say hydroxychloroquine can have dangerous side effects.

Axios reported the drug argument played out heatedly behind the scenes Saturday at a meeting of the White House coronavirus task force, with trade adviser Peter Navarro yelling at Fauci, claiming the scientific evidence is strong enough to support the use of hydroxychloroquine. Navarro kept it up until the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner said, "Peter, take yes for an answer," because most everyone agreed on surging the drug to hot zones.

Long Island hospitals are among those running or planning clinical trials of potential anticoronavirus drugs, reports Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky of the medical school at Stony Brook University said he reached out to New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to discuss a clinical trial there for hydroxychloroquine combined with the antibiotic azithromycin.

Kaushansky said the anecdotal evidence shows it might be effective, within limits. “No one believes these drugs are going to be the silver bullet that cures COVID-19,” he said. “At best, it might prevent the disease from progressing.”

A week of agony

The nation's top medical officials, appearing on the Sunday morning political talk shows, braced the nation for historically sorrowful days ahead as COVID-19 deaths surge.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned “this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.” He said on "Fox News Sunday": “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment and our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized; it’s going to be happening all over the country.”

Fauci said on CBS' "Face the Nation": "We'll just buckle down, continue to mitigate, continue to do the physical separation because we gotta get through this week that's coming up because it is going to be a bad week.”

At Sunday night's briefing, Trump tried to strike a more optimistic tone, suggesting that "horrific" weeks ahead could mean the nation is beginning to turn a corner. “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Trump said. Pence added, “We are beginning to see glimmers of progress.”

Fauci agreed, with a caveat. "If we start seeing now a flattening or a stabilization of cases, what you're hearing about potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn't take away from the fact that tomorrow or the next day is going to look really bad," he said. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Unimaginable? Not exactly

Even after acknowledging over the past weeks that the explosion of coronavirus wasn't under control, Trump said there was no way to have seen it coming. “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” he said.

But among those who understood and feared the potential was former President George W. Bush. In 2005, after reading a historical book about the 1918 flu pandemic, "The Great Influenza," Bush called in his top homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, ABC News reports. “ ‘You've got to read this,’ ” Townsend remembers Bush telling her. “He said, ‘Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.’ ”

In a speech that year at the National Institutes of Health, Bush said, "A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire. If caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it." An intense, $7 billion planning effort was launched, but over time, attention waned and funding eroded.

The Obama administration ended up dealing with a series of virus threats, including Ebola, and that experience shaped the transition handoff to the Trump administration three years ago, The Washington Post writes.

But as signs appeared in early January that the COVID-19 outbreak abroad might ignite a pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment, The Associated Press reports.

Janison: Navy crossed off

Only a few months ago, Trump used his presidential power for extraordinary intervention on behalf of U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who had been convicted of posing with the corpse of a teenage ISIS captive he'd just stabbed to death.

Trump has no such sympathy for Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, ousted last week as commander of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Crozier pleaded in writing with superiors to protect his crew from a shipboard coronavirus outbreak, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. He was relieved of his command after his memo was leaked to the news media.

Videos posted through social media show hundreds of crew members chanting Crozier's name in support as he departed the carrier in Guam. Trump said on Saturday that Crozier's note “looked terrible … he shouldn't be talking that way in a letter."

The front-runner for the Democratic nomination, ex-Vice President Joe Biden, tweeted: “Captain Crozier was faithful to his duty — both to his sailors and his country. Navy leadership sent a chilling message about speaking truth to power."

Crozier now has tested positive for COVID-19, two of his Naval Academy classmates told The New York Times. He is in quarantine.

Not feeling the stimulus

The economic stimulus programs in the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package enacted late last month have gotten off to a shaky start, The Washington Post reports.

Small-business owners have reported delays in getting approved for desperately needed loans to stay afloat, while others say they have been turned down by their lenders and do not understand why. The law’s provision to boost unemployment benefits has become tangled in dated and overwhelmed state bureaucracies as almost 10 million jobless Americans have filed claims in the past two weeks.

IRS officials have warned that the $1,200-per-person relief checks may not reach many Americans until August or September if they haven’t already given their direct-deposit information to the federal government. Taxpayers in need of answers from the IRS amid a rapidly changing job market are encountering dysfunctional government websites and unresponsive call centers that have become understaffed as many federal workers work from home.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Trump's former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that even when the worst of the pandemic eases, a full economic recovery won't happen until there are drug treatments for COVID-19.

"Absent that, this is going to be an 80% economy," he said. "There are things that are not coming back. People are not going to crowd into conferences. They're not going to crowd into arenas. The marginal customer is not going back to movie theaters and cruises and Disneyland. And we need to accept that."

Real numbers are elusive

As terrible as the official count of coronavirus cases and deaths looks, the real toll is probably worse, The Washington Post reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only COVID-19 deaths in which lab tests verified the presence of coronavirus. “We know that it is an underestimation,” agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.

A widespread lack of access to testing in the early weeks of the outbreak meant some people with respiratory illnesses died without being counted, epidemiologists say. Even now, some people who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested, according to funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives.

More coronavirus news

For a roundup of major pandemic developments, see the story from Newsday's reporting staff, written by David M. Schwartz and Joie Tyrrell.

For a complete list of Newsday stories, click here.

Always time left for revenge

Trump made it explicit Saturday that his Friday night firing of the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community was in retaliation for impeachment.

In a change of subjects during a coronavirus briefing, Trump said of Michael Atkinson: “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible.” The president added: “He took a fake report and he took it to Congress with an emergency, OK? Not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”

The whistleblower report was not fake, but a detailed complaint written by an anonymous intelligence official who described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son. Atkinson determined the complaint was urgent and credible and that therefore he was required by law to disclose it to Congress, but he was overruled for weeks by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.

On Saturday, Trump questioned why Atkinson didn’t speak to him about the whistleblower's complaint. The role of an IG is to provide independent oversight.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “fires people for telling the truth.”

What else is happening:

  • Biden said that unlike Trump, he will wear a face covering in public, as the CDC now recommends to help curtail the spread of the virus. "You should follow the science," the former vice president said on ABC's "This Week." For more on Biden's interview, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.
  • Biden has built a shadow war room of public health and economic experts to keep him engaged on pandemic issues, according to Bloomberg News.
  • A small group of Bernie Sanders’ top aides and allies — including his campaign manager and his longtime strategist — has encouraged him to consider withdrawing from the presidential race, The Washington Post reported.
  • Rudy Giuliani has recast himself as a science adviser to Trump, promoting possible coronavirus treatments in calls to the president and on his podcast, The Washington Post reports. Giuliani's brain trust include a former pharmacist who once pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort actor Steven Seagal. Giuliani said he has not discussed possible treatments with Fauci, but “I’m sure he thinks I am an ignoramus.”
  • Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, have been colleagues and allies since they worked on the fight to conquer AIDS in the 1980s. The Washington Post wrote about their long-standing professional relationship.
  • The premier of Newfoundland, the Canadian province that sheltered thousands of stranded U.S. airline passengers after the 9/11 attacks, questioned Trump's humanity on Sunday after the president banned the export of N95 protective masks to Canada.

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