Coronavirus: White House blocks media from Pence meeting with hospital executives

Report: White House takes rare step of declaring most high-level virus meetings classified

John T. Bennett
Wednesday 11 March 2020 20:33 GMT
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Mike Pence heard from hospital executives on Wednesday about the coronavirus, but a nervous public will have to wait for the vice president's account of what they said.

The meeting came on a day when a report surfaced that Congress's in-house doctor told Capitol Hill staffers he expects 75 million to 150 million people in the United States (total population: 364 million) to contract the novel disease. Federal and industry officials are working on a vaccine, but one might be as long as a year from being deployed.

That figure came to light shortly after members of the Pence-led White House coronavirus task force told a House committee they expect the outbreak to get much worse, with Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease scientist, saying "many, many millions of people" could get coronavirus and die.

The coming wave of confirmed cases, which will only grow both as it spreads and up to 4 million test kits reach some hospitals and laboratories, could lead hospitals around the country -- and especially in hard-hit areas like Washington state, New York-New Jersey and California -- to become overloaded with sick coronavirus victims.

A group of reporters and camera technicians were slated to be allowed into part of the session. Donald Trump had joined Mr Pence at a similar meeting with insurance executives on Tuesday.

A Pence aide said the "pool spray" was cancelled simply because the VP was running "super late," adding Mr Pence will provide a summary of what the hospital executives said during a planned 5:30 p.m. White House briefing.

As the VP was meeting with that group of executives, Mr Trump was tweeting about Democrats.

"Someone needs to tell the Democrats in Congress that CoronaVirus doesn't care what party you are in. We need to protect ALL Americans!" he tweeted, adding in another he is "fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!"

Mr Pence was slated to join the president at a closed-door meeting with banking executives at 3 p.m., then chair a task force meeting in the White House Situation Room at 4 p.m.

As the duo met with private-sector officials as they continue to craft the government's response, Reuters reported that White House officials have ordered most high-level meetings about the virus outbreak to be deemed classified.

The wire service cited four administration officials and described the move as rare.

"We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go," one official told Reuters. "These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary."

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