Trump touts federal, private efforts to combat coronavirus in first major trip during pandemic

Trump touts federal, private efforts to combat coronavirus in first major trip during pandemic
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PHOENIX — President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE on Tuesday declared the country in the “next stage of the battle” as he highlighted efforts by the federal government and private industries to combat the novel coronavirus.

“To defeat the virus, we are harnessing the unrivaled power of American industry,” Trump said during an address at Honeywell International in Phoenix, a facility that has produced N95 masks, a critical piece of medical equipment used by front-line hospital workers treating patients with COVID-19.

Trump described efforts to scale up medical supplies such as ventilators and masks, saying there hadn’t been such a mobilization since World War II. He also expressed optimism about the path forward to a vaccine for COVID-19. 

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“In normal months, it would take nine months to stand up one facility like this, but Honeywell has built this in less than five weeks, creating 500 new jobs in Arizona and another 500 jobs in Rhode Island,” the president said. “Together, these new factories will soon produce more than 20 million N95 respirators every single month. A truly miraculous achievement.”

The speech had the feel of a campaign rally at times. Trump walked onto the stage to the tune of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and he opened his remarks by noting his performance in Arizona on Election Day in 2016. Earlier, music blared in the factory that was similar to what you might hear at a Trump rally. 

The president later called on local restaurant owners whose cause he championed on Twitter to speak. 

They both wore pro-Trump hats, professed their support and declared Latinos would back the president en masse in November.

“I can’t believe I have to socially distance myself from these two people,” Trump quipped.

Trump’s sojourn in Arizona reflects his own desire to return to business as usual amid the pandemic. It is the president’s first major trip outside the White House since late March, when he traveled to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to send off the USNS Comfort hospital ship. Tuesday’s journey follows Trump’s weekend stay at Camp David.

The president suggested before leaving Tuesday morning that he would wear a mask if it was a "mask facility." But he did not wear one at any point during his visit to Honeywell, nor did any of the officials who joined him on a tour of the site. A White House official said the president and his entourage were not required to wear masks, though signs visible throughout the facility encouraged workers to cover their faces.

The White House did take other precautions to ensure the president remained safe during the trip, testing everyone who met with him for the coronavirus beforehand — a practice that has become commonplace before meetings in Washington.

The trip comes against the backdrop of the looming presidential contest. Recent polling has shown presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE pulling ahead of Trump on Arizona, a state the president won in 2016. 

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyKelly raises million in third quarter Ruben Gallego is left's favorite to take on Sinema Texas not hiring private contractor for election audit MORE (R-Ariz.), who is facing a tough reelection battle of her own, made the journey with Trump on Air Force One. She joined the president at a roundtable on supporting Native Americans through the pandemic before he toured the facility and delivered remarks to Honeywell employees. 

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Trump is seeking to project optimism about his administration’s handling of the pandemic and the path forward to reopening the economy, a central focus of his reelection campaign that has been devastated by the coronavirus. 

“We mourn for every life lost, we pray for every victim, and we shoulder this burden together as one people, one family and one great American nation,” Trump said at the Honeywell factory. “Thanks to the profound commitment of our citizens, we’ve flattened the curve and countless American lives have been saved. Our country is now in the next stage of the battle.”  

Trump has declared the U.S. past the worst period of the pandemic and encouraged states to loosen coronavirus restrictions so Americans can return to work. But a lack of testing capacity has prompted concerns about the risk of states reopening too quickly and causing a future spike in cases and deaths.

Some states also haven’t followed the White House's own guidelines that call for a series of criteria to be met before reopening. 

The White House further signaled its desire to shift the focus from public health to the economy when it said Tuesday that it would likely disband the coronavirus task force at the end of the month.

More than 1.1 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and roughly 70,000 have died from the virus, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. More than 134,000 Americans are expected to die from the virus by the start of August, according to a University of Washington model favored by the White House, which significantly increased its death toll projections on Monday to account for states loosening restrictions.