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FDA chief declined to confirm Trump's claim of 'harmless' virus

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn urges people to follow CDC guidelines. Credit: Getty Images/Pool

Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, on Sunday declined to confirm President Trump's claim that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are "harmless," but said the spiking number of cases was a "serious problem that we have."

In two televised interviews Sunday, Hahn declined to say whether President Donald Trump was right when he made the claim Saturday evening on the South Lawn of the White House.

"Now we have tested almost 40 million people … by so doing, we show cases 99 percent of which are totally harmless," Trump said in his Independence Day remarks.

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Hahn called the spike in cases across the country, "a concerning trend, and we can stop this by following the guidelines" of federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But he told anchor Dana Bash, "I'm not going to get into who's right and who's wrong. It's a serious problem that we have, we've seen this surge in cases, we must do something to stem the tide, and we have this in our power to do it by following the guidance of the White House Task Force and the CDC," Hahn said.

On ABC's "This Week," Hahn told anchor Martha Raddatz: "Any case we don't want to have in this country ... Any death, any case, is tragic, and we want to do everything we can to prevent that."

Officials in states where coronavirus cases are surging on Sunday criticized the White House for downplaying the threat of coronavirus and said they hoped Americans would listen to local directives. 

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Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, said of Trump's "99 percent" remark: “It makes me angry. You know, I understand he has a tough job, but it is dangerous not to be sending a clear message to Americans, to folks in my town."

Speaking on CNN, Adler said when Americans hear "that kind of ambiguous message coming out of Washington, there are more and more people that won't wear masks, that won't social distance, that won't do what it takes to keep a community safe. And that's wrong, and it's dangerous."

He added, "I just have to hope that people aren't going to listen to that, and they will stay focused on what they're hearing here more locally."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, a Democrat, said on ABC that her state was in trouble. 

"We opened way too early in Arizona," she said.

She said her city has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help with conducting community-based testing. But she said, "We were told they’re moving away from that, which feels like they’re declaring victory while we’re still in crisis mode."

Gallego added that Trump is "having large events while I am trying to push people that you need to stay at home, and that events with more than 10 people are dangerous per the Centers for Disease Control."

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