President Donald Trump said Wednesday the coronavirus task force will keep working "indefinitely," reversing his suggestion a day earlier that it would be phased out in coming weeks.
While the task force is not going away, it may replace some members and will shift its focus toward an economic reopening in the U.S., Trump said in a series of tweets. He told reporters at the White House later Wednesday that "we'll be adding two or three members" to the group by next week.
The group, led by Vice President Mike Pence, "has done a fantastic job of bringing together vast highly complex resources," such as ventilators, face masks and testing systems, Trump tweeted.
"Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN," the president wrote.
"We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics. Thank you!" Trump added.
On Tuesday, Trump said he was winding down the task force "because we can't keep our country closed for the next five years."
Sources told CNBC and other outlets earlier Tuesday that White House staff had signaled to task force officials that a phase-out was forthcoming. Pence appeared to confirm those reports, suggesting that winding down the task force is "all a reflection of the tremendous progress we've made as a country."
The Trump administration was having conversations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about transitioning the coronavirus response to other federal agencies, Pence said Tuesday. The White House was looking at starting that transition as soon as late May, the vice president had said.
Asked on Wednesday afternoon about the reversal, Trump said, "I thought we could wind it down sooner."
"But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday when I started talking about winding down," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "It is appreciated by the public."
The task force, which includes response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, was formed in late January and put in charge of the administration's efforts to slow the spread of the deadly disease in the United States.
More than 1.2 million Covid-19 cases and at least 71,078 deaths from the disease have been confirmed in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has counted more cases and deaths from the virus than any other country.
State and regional leaders have imposed unprecedented measures, such as ordering residents to stay home and closing nonessential businesses, to try to prevent transmission of the coronavirus and keep health-care facilities from being overrun with patients.
The economy has been suffocated as a result: Private payrolls suffered by far their worst monthly drop in history in April, hemorrhaging 20.2 million jobs, according to an ADP report Wednesday.
Trump, who is up for reelection in November, has repeatedly predicted that the country is due an economic rebound later in the year. Despite warnings from health experts in his own administration that the virus will likely persist through the fall and winter, Trump has pushed for states to start to relax their strict social distancing rules and begin the process of restarting their economies.
"I'm not saying anything is perfect," Trump said at a roundtable event in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday afternoon. "Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country opened and we have to get it open soon."
As the president turns his attention toward reinvigorating the ailing U.S. economy, the task force has been nudged from the national spotlight.
On-camera press briefings with the task force, once a near-daily occurrence, have not been held since April 24, and a source told CNBC on Tuesday that the operation has been meeting less frequently.
"Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we're now looking at a little bit of a different form," Trump said in Phoenix. "That form is safety and opening, and we'll have a different group probably set up for that."
In an ABC News interview that aired Tuesday evening, Trump acknowledged that reopening parts of the country would inevitably cost some Americans their lives.
"It's possible there will be some [deaths] because you won't be locked into an apartment or house or whatever it is," Trump said in the interview. "But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, we're going to be washing hands, we're going to be doing a lot of the things that we've learned to do over the last period of time."