WASHINGTON — In an extraordinary exchange, President Donald Trump and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, publicly sparred Friday on whether a malaria drug would work to treat people with coronavirus disease.
The scene played out on national television during the daily White House briefing on the outbreak. Anxious for answers, Americans heard conflicting ones from a just-the-facts scientist and a president who operates on gut instinct.
Reporters asked both men — first Fauci then Trump — if a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. A day earlier, when Fauci wasn’t with him at that briefing, Trump had called attention to the drug.
On Friday, Fauci took the reporter’s question and got right to the point.
“No,” he said. “The answer … is no.
“The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal,” Fauci added firmly. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
But Trump stuck to what his gut was telling him. As the two men took turns at the podium, Trump said he disagreed with the notion that there is no magic drug for the coronavirus disease. “Maybe and maybe not, ” he said. “Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see.”
He struck an upbeat note, while trying not to directly challenge Fauci.
“I think without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that … maybe than anybody, ” he said. “But I’m a big fan, and we’ll see what happens. And we all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It’s early.
“You know, I see things that are impressive … we’re going to know soon,” the president added. “And it’s very effective. It’s a strong — it’s a strong drug. So, we’ll see.”
In other news:
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rescue plan proposes $1,200 direct checks to taxpayers, $300 billion for small businesses to keep idled workers on payroll and $208 billion in loans to airlines and other industries, yet Democrats say it doesn’t go far enough. Lawmakers are expected to work through the weekend in hopes of having an agreement by Monday.
• In a Friday phone call with Trump, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer implored the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to order manufactures to ramp up production desperately needed ventilators and other gear. Trump told the Democratic leader he would do it — and then could be heard yelling to someone in his office to do it now, said Schumer’s spokesman Justin Goodman.
• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that starting Sunday, all workers in nonessential businesses must stay home as much as possible, and all gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of more than 19 million people. He acted after California all but confined its 40 million residents in the biggest lockdown in the nation. Both states made exceptions for vital jobs and errands, as well as exercise.
• Gasping patients filled the wards of hospitals in Spain and Italy, and the global death toll surpassed 10,000, with the virus still multiplying and gaining footholds in new corners of the world. Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, reported 627 new deaths Friday, its biggest day-to-day rise since the outbreak began, and said new cases also shot up. Italy now has seen over 4,000 deaths — more even than China — and 47,000 infections.
•The World Health Organization noted the epidemic’s dramatic speed. “It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000,” the U.N. health agency said.
• Trump announced the closing of the Mexican border to most travel but not trade. That brings it in line with the restrictions on the Canadian border earlier this week. The income tax filing deadline was also moved from April 15 to July 15.
• Some good news came from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began and were hospitals were struggling just weeks ago. For the second day in a row, no new infections were reported and only 39 cases were recorded nationwide — all brought from the outside, the government said.