US-NEWS-CORONAVIRUS-US-NEWYORK-15-NY

A large shipment of hand sanitizer is delivered to ELK Investors on March 13, 2020 in Manhattan, New York. (Shawn Inglima/New York Daily News/TNS)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Saturday urged Americans to avoid flying to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and expanded the U.S. ban on travel from Europe to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “We want this thing to end. We don’t want a lot of people getting infected.”

The president also revealed that he’s been tested for the virus even though the White House released a letter from his physician the previous evening saying it was not necessary. The White House announced later in the day that Trump tested negative.

“The President remains symptom-free,” said the memo from his physician, Sean P. Conley.

Saturday’s remarks capped a remarkable shift in tone over the past few days for Trump, who once downplayed the threat of the coronavirus and now boasts about his efforts to fight it. Wearing a campaign hat emblazoned with “USA” in the front and “TRUMP” in the back, he bragged about the stock market rally that followed his declaration of a national emergency the previous day and said the crisis had created “a number of new stars” among his administration’s health officials.

“We’re using the full power of the federal government to defeat the virus,” Trump said.

The expanded travel ban for the U.K. and Ireland – which adds to the restrictions placed last week on the rest of Europe – takes effect on Monday at midnight and does not effect U.S. citizens.

The White House was also tightening procedures around the building. Reporters had their temperatures checked before entering Saturday’s news conference, and one was turned away because it was too high. Checks are being conducted “on any individuals who are in close contact with the president and vice president,” according to a White House spokesman.

Trump praised Congress for reaching a bipartisan deal responding to the coronavirus crisis, including an expansion of paid sick leave and financial support for struggling businesses.

“It was very nice to see it,” the president said.

Trump even had some praise for the media, a favorite target of his, saying it “has been very fair for the most part” in its reporting on the coronavirus.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.

Trump has stopped suggesting that the number of coronavirus infections might decrease as health officials brace for a potential crush of cases at hospitals around the country.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there are 2,226 coronavirus cases in the United States and 50 deaths.

“We have not reached our peak,” he said. “We will see more cases, and we will see more suffering and death.”

Trump pledged to continue taking aggressive new steps to slow the spread of the virus, but his administration’s response remained strained by mixed messages.

During his Saturday news conference, Trump said domestic travel restrictions were being considered “specifically from certain areas.” Three hours later, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no plans for any such limits.

“There’s no expectation of any domestic travel restrictions at this time,” said the official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity.

In addition, Trump said Friday that Google was developing a website that would help Americans determine whether they need a coronavirus test and where they can get one. But Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, said that the website was only a pilot project intended for the San Francisco Bay Area. It could be launched nationwide at some point in the future.

Vice President Mike Pence said more information would be shared Sunday about when the website would be available and where Americans could visit drive-up testing sites to see if they’ve contracted the coronavirus.

The issue of whether Trump would personally take a test has been emblematic of his administration’s shaky response to the coronavirus. Any doubt about a president’s health can rattle the public and the financial markets, which are already badly shaken by the pandemic. 

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