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President Trump authorized new travel restrictions and warnings Saturday – and said he’s even looking at closing the southern border – in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed the first American life, while assuring the nation there’s “no reason to panic” at an all-hands-on-deck press conference.
The White House announced new travel restrictions affecting Iran, Italy and South Korea and Trump confirmed he’s looking to potentially tighten the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Yes, we are thinking about [the] southern border, we have received a lot of power on the southern border over the last couple of years from the courts but we are looking at that very strongly,” Trump said at the press conference.
The rare appearance in the White House press briefing room came shortly after news of the first death in the United States from the new virus and a terrible week on the stock market over fears of the outbreak.
“There’s no reason to panic at all. This is something that is being handled professionally,” Trump assured, while also acknowledging more cases in the U.S. are “likely.”
The president said there are 22 patients in the United States who have coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, one person passed away overnight,” Trump said, speaking to a case in Washington state.
“She was a wonderful woman, a medically high-risk patient in her late 50s. Four others are very ill. Thankfully 15 are either recovered fully or they’re well on their way to recovery. And in all cases, they’ve been let go in their home.”
Shortly before Trump spoke, Washington state health officials confirmed one person had died from the new virus; the first person to die from the disease in the United States. She was not infected by travel abroad, officials said.
Trump also said Saturday that most healthy people would be able to pull through should they contract coronavirus: “Additional cases in the United States are likely. But healthy individuals should be able to fully recover.”
Trump praised the response so far and said the United States has secured 43 million masks so far. He said he’s meeting with drug companies on Monday at the White House to discuss vaccine development.
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” Trump said Saturday after Vice President Pence led a coronavirus task force meeting in the White House situation room.
Pence, tapped to lead the virus response, also announced the new travel restrictions, including an expanded ban on travel from Iran.
This would cover any foreign national who has visited Iran within the last 14 days. He also said Trump has authorized the State Department to raise the travel advisory for certain affected areas to Level Four, the highest level – Americans will be urged not to travel to areas in Italy and South Korea most affected by the virus.
The State Department already has a Level 4 alert for Americans to not travel to China, where the outbreak originated.
It’s unclear whether more restrictions will come for the southern border. Officials in Ecuador on Saturday confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus in the South American nation and Mexico reported two more to raise the country’s total to four.
Mexico’s Health Department confirmed cases in Mexico City and in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Mexican health officials said the country is not currently facing a national emergency over the virus.
Pence also advised against stockpiling on masks.“The average American does not need to go out and buy a mask,” he said.
It’s the second time this week Trump spoke to reporters in a rare White House briefing room press conference, signaling the seriousness the administration is placing on the coronavirus that has now infected more than 85,000 worldwide and killed 2,900.
The closures and quarantines around the world have spooked investors and the stock market took a dramatic tumble this week.
News of the latest death comes on the heels of three new cases in California, Oregon and Washington in which the patients were infected by unknown means. They had not recently traveled overseas or had come into contact with anyone who had.
As new cases have popped up in the United States, tensions between Trump and Democrats are bubbling up as well.
At a rally in South Carolina Friday night, Trump accused his Democratic critics of “politicizing” the coronavirus outbreak and dismissed the criticism about his handling of the virus as “their new hoax” and insisted “we are totally prepared.”
Meanwhile, the House held a bipartisan briefing with health officials Friday morning, leaving Democrats questioning whether Trump has a handle on the response.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment fight, said Friday he has “profound concerns” about Trump‘s response to the coronavirus and cast doubt on whether the White House is telling the truth to the American public about the global outbreak.
“The president and vice president don’t inspire confidence,” Schiff told Fox News as he left a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol Friday morning. “And because the president has made so many false statements about so many things, you can’t really rely on the White House.”
Schiff’s comments come after Trump blasted Democrats in a tweetstorm for playing politics with the coronavirus threat.
“I have profound concerns about the management of this at the level of the White House,” Schiff said, “but there are some good career people who we got the opportunity to talk to today.”
Trump was joined by Pence and top health officials including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj and the Associated Press contributed to this report.