WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's administration is considering plans to wind down its coronavirus task force as early as this month, a major shift in the White House response to the nation's greatest health crisis in more than a century.
A senior administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in a briefing Tuesday that members of the taskforce were "having a conversation" about when and how to wind down the group.
"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," Pence told reporters, according to a transcript of his remarks reviewed by USA TODAY. "And we’ve already begun to talk about a transition plan with FEMA."
Trump announced the creation of the task force on Jan. 29, saying its goal was to "monitor, contain and mitigate the spread of the virus." The group, which Pence has led, has met virtually every day – bringing together not only White House officials but also top public health experts within the Trump administration.
Pence's briefing followed a report in the New York Times that White House officials are telling members and staff of the group that the administration plans to wind down in coming weeks, despite evidence that the threat posed by the virus continues.
News of the change drew fire from critics who cited concerns that coronavirus death rates will spike as states roll back restrictions on businesses and people. More than 70,000 people have succumbed to the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"We have weeks ahead of us of 1,000+ deaths/day but sure, let's shut down the task force," tweeted national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss.
Trump is expected to address the fate of the task force during a trip to Arizona on Tuesday.
One prominent task force member – Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – disputed the report
"That’s not true," Fauci told CBS News. "I’ve been in every task force meeting, and that’s not what they are doing."