WASHINGTON — The country has seen an upward trend in coronavirus cases in several states experiencing record-breaking daily counts, and some local officials have halted their plans to reopen after lockdowns.
The United States has surpassed 2.8 million cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, with nearly 130,000 deaths.
But as states struggle with managing cases, administration officials have recently offered sometimes conflicting messaging on everything from if there is a surge to how individual people should respond.
Whose responsibility is it to encourage wearing masks?
The president has resisted wearing a mask when in public places, to much criticism from those who say he is setting a poor example for supporters and furthering the politicization wearing a mask.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has stressed repeatedly that masks are a recommendation from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the administration, not a requirement, and that it is each individual's choice whether to follow that recommendation.
"CDC guidelines are still recommended, but not required," McEnany said Tuesday. "And the president is the most tested man in America. It’s his decision whether to wear a mask."
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Others in the administration, like White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Vice President Mike Pence and the coronavirus task force, have urged people to wear masks.
Individuals should wear masks, Conway said, adding that local officials have not been doing enough to spread the word that masks must be worn and enforcing those rules.
"People are not wearing masks. And I don't think they're not wearing masks because the president of the United States is not wearing a mask," Conway told reporters. "They're not wearing a mask because nobody's saying, 'Put the mask on.'"
But at large-scale events with the president, mask-wearing has not been a requirement made either by local officials or the Trump campaign. At Trump's Tulsa, Okla. campaign rally—the first large campaign event since the start of pandemic lockdowns—the campaign said it provided free masks to attendees, but would not require them to be worn, which left many of the president's supporters maskless that evening.
For Trump's July 3 event at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said masks would be provided but not required and social distancing would not be in effect.
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In recent days, several local and state officials have mandated masks outdoors and in public places, including in Jacksonville, Fla., where the president is scheduled to hold a rally during the Republican National Convention in late August. Convention events were moved to Jacksonville after Trump slammed Charlotte, N.C. officials who would not commit to allowing a full convention because of the virus.
This week, Trump said he would be open to wearing one if he were in a crowd where social distancing was not possible.
"If I were in a tight situation with people, I would absolutely," he said.
The next day, he appeared at a press briefing sans mask. White House officials have noted that Trump is tested routinely for the coronavirus, and that masks are intended to prevent the spreading of the virus rather than protection from getting it.
Is the curve flattening?
In mid-June, Pence penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he argued there is no second wave of the coronavirus, and that the administration's efforts to curb the virus' spread were working.
States were opening in a "safe and responsible manner," he said.
Soon after, though, cases were spiking again and multiple states hit the brakes on their reopening plans or reversed some of the measures taken. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the halting of indoor bar service and reduced maximum capacity for restaurants. In Florida, bars are to stop serving alcohol.
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"I think it’s pretty obvious that we are not going in the right direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday.
Fauci has also predicted that new infections could increase to 100,000 per day if the country doesn’t get its surge of cases under control, saying that several states may have moved “too quickly” in their reopenings.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for Health and Human Services who has overseen testing, also said Thursday that the U.S. is "not flattening the curve right now. The curve is still going up."
Does more testing equal more cases?
Trump has said that the country's recent rise in coronavirus cases is due only to the amount of testing being done, despite health officials' assessments that there is really an increased spread in many areas as they have reopened.
At his Tulsa rally on June 20, Trump claimed that he asked for coronavirus testing to be slowed down, calling testing a "double-edged sword" and arguing that more cases discovered made the U.S. look bad.
"Here's the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases," Trump said. "So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.'"
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The day after his rally, though, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro claimed that Trump's remarks were made in a "light moment," and were "tongue in cheek." The same day, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his remarks were made in "frustration" at the media's focus on rising cases instead of testing capacity, but he wasn't aware of any order from the president to slow testing.
Despite indications from his staffers that the comment about slowing testing was made in jest, Trump told reporters later that week, "I don't kid."
He has reiterated versions of the claim that increased testing leads to more cases many times.
"Cases up only because of our big number testing. Mortality rate way down!!!" Trump tweeted on June 23.
But Giroir told members of Congress on Thursday that the spikes reflect a true increase in coronavirus cases, rather than just an expansion of testing. Experts point to an increase as states have relaxed their social distancing requirements and the virus spreads.