Trump says briefings will return and touts masks, in apparent shift amid surge in Covid cases


(CNN) — President Donald Trump has announced he would soon resume public briefings on the coronavirus strategy after discontinuing them in April and declaring them a waste of time.

And for the first time he publicly encouraged his followers to wear masks, writing on Twitter that “many people say that it is Patriotic” to take the step public health experts have been advocating for months.

“We have had this big flare up in Florida, Texas, a couple of other places,” Trump said Monday from the Oval Office, where he was meeting with Republican Congressional leaders about the next round of stimulus funding. “I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings.”

His tweet on masks came after a prolonged attempt by some of his advisers — described by one as “pleading” — to convince Trump to wear a mask in public. He finally did July 11 at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland, flanked by military members and others as he strode purposefully down a hallway.

But Monday was the first time Trump actively encouraged his supporters on Twitter to take a similar step, though even his phrasing — “many people say” — seemed to put the recommendation at a remove.

“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance,” he wrote. “There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”

Earlier, Vice President Mike Pence cited mask-wearing as a principal method of containing the virus in a weekly phone call with governors.

“What we have found is that masks, closing indoor bars, decreasing indoor dining capacity to 25%, continued social distancing and personal hygiene messaging are, according to the modeling, dramatically decreasing the rate of community spread,” he said, according to audio of the phone call obtained by CNN.

Those actions are “a clear example of transmitting science into action and proving this works,” Pence said.

Trump’s advisers had been debating for several weeks a return to the daily briefings, which were a hallmark of the pandemic’s earlier days.

Now, however, many of Trump’s aides worry he appears absent as the crisis continues to rage. Trump no longer attends daily coronavirus task force meetings and hasn’t held an event specifically focused on the virus in two weeks.

Trump said Monday the revival of briefings would allow him to tout advancements on therapeutics and vaccines, and explain the “positive things” his administration is doing to combat the virus.

“I think it’s a great way to get information out to the public,” Trump said, adding they would likely resume at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday — the same time he typically briefed in the spring.

“We had a good slot. A lot of people were watching,” Trump said, using television ratings lingo to describe the sessions. “We had record numbers watching,” he said. “In the history of cable television there’s never been anything like it.”

One adviser said the format of the briefings remains “to be determined,” and said it was possible they occur in an alternative venue from the White House briefing room.

Recognizing that Trump’s reelection prospects are now tied intractably to the coronavirus pandemic, his aides are hopeful the coming weeks will mark a new focus on his part on addressing the crisis and appearing in charge.

senior Trump campaign adviser said not only would that help Trump politically, it would have the added benefit of saving lives.

“It’s about doing the right thing,” the adviser said.

Few believe Trump is interested in resuming the day-to-day oversight of the pandemic, which he has largely left to Pence since April.

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