WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed a dramatic uptick in U.S. coronavirus cases on young people who attended nationwide protests over police brutality, summer holidays, a “substantial increase in travel” and migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, even though his own advisers have also attributed the surge to some states’ early reopenings.
Surges across the country have led to 10 states setting seven-day records for new cases while five states saw a record number of deaths over that period, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Tuesday.
“There are likely a number of causes for the spike in infections. Cases started to rise among young Americans shortly after demonstrations, which you know very well about, which presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation efforts nationwide,” Trump told reporters during a White House briefing, referring to mass demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.
“We’re also sharing a 2,000 mile border with Mexico as we know very well and cases are surging in Mexico … it’s a big problem for Mexico but cases are surging very sharply and all across the rest of the Western Hemisphere. “
The U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada have been closed since mid-March to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
As Trump spoke Wednesday evening, one of his own top health experts, Dr. Deborah Birx, told Fox News that some states opening too early was another factor behind the outbreak.
“This was an event that we think can be traced to Memorial Day and opening up and people traveling again and being on vacations,” the White House coronavirus task force coordinator said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the task force, said earlier this month that the rise in cases was attributed to early openings.
“There are some times when despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly,” Fauci told Podcast-19, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly podcast on COVID-19.
“Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints,” he added.
The president urged young Americans to “avoid packed bars” and other crowded settings that he said were behind the recent surge and, for a second day, insisted people follow federal health guidelines, including wearing a mask and social distancing.
“I’m finding more and more people are saying wash your hands. So wash your hands,” he added.
Trump said his administration “didn’t anticipate” the COVID-19 outbreak across the country’s Sun Belt region, including Florida,Texas, Georgia and Arizona, but he failed to acknowledge that those states were among the first to follow his lead to lift coronavirus restrictions in the spring.
After initially backing nationwide shutdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 for several weeks, Trump began encouraging governors to ease restrictions and reopening businesses as early as April.
Republican governors who are closely allied with Trump, including Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp and Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis were among the first to aggressively implement reopening plans even as their daily rates of coronavirus infection continued to climb.
During Wednesday’s briefing, the president also sidestepped a question about whether he’ll support a short-term extension of the additional $600 that millions of Americans received on top of their weekly unemployment benefits to assist with the economic fallout from the pandemic – one of several issues stalling ongoing negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill.
“I think ultimately something good will come out of it,” he said.
Trump appeared before reporters for a second time this week as he attempts to hit the reset button amid criticism of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The president continues to face questions on his handling of the pandemic as his sinking poll numbers have showed him trailing his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, in several battleground states ahead of November.
In the weeks since the last series of briefings in March and April, Trump has opted to put a positive spin on the country’s coronavirus crisis, touting the expansion of U.S. testing, despite lags in results, and pressuring schools to reopen in the fall as part of a wider effort to revive the economy.
But he appeared to reverse course Tuesday, conceding that the pandemic “will likely unfortunately get worse before it gets better” and encouraging Americans to wear a mask – a federal health guideline he has repeatedly flouted until a visit to Walter Reed hospital earlier this month.
Despite his about-face on the severity of the pandemic, Trump continued to paint an optimistic outlook, suggesting the health experts could develop a cure “in a very short period of time.”
“We’re doing tremendously well on therapeutic research and tremendously well on the vaccines,” he said. “We’ll see what happens but that would be great if we could go into the hospital and just cure people … we think in a very short period of time we’ll be able to do that.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump blames COVID spike on protests, travel, Mexico during briefing