By Jeff Mason and Lindsay Dunsmuir
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Saturday doubled down on his support for a drug that is still being tested to treat the coronavirus, saying he might take the medicine himself and encouraging others with doctor approval to do the same.
At his daily press briefing, Trump also chided some states for requesting more ventilators from the federal government than he said they needed.
Trump said the next week would be particularly tough with a “lot of death” coming from the coronavirus. But he also reiterated his concern that the social distancing “cure” for the outbreak was worse than the problem.
Trump faced criticism for initially playing down the risks of the coronavirus and has vacillated between warning Americans about its severity and complaining about its economic costs.
Trump’s optimistic comments on Saturday about the benefits of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, reflected his tendency to put a positive spin on an issue even as data was still being gathered.
“I may take it,” Trump said. “I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it.” Trump has been tested twice for the coronavirus, according to the White House, and both times the results were negative.
The European Commission said this week that the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine treating COVID-19 had not been proven.
Trump said the federal government had 29 million doses of the drug and was adding to its national stockpile. He said he had asked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday to lift a hold on a U.S. order of the drug as well.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency authorization for the drug to be distributed from the national stockpile for doctors to prescribe to hospitalized COVID-19 patients, even as tests continue to be conducted and data collected.
“We’re just hearing really positive stories and we’re continuing to collect the data,” Trump said.
The president said fears of shortages had prompted U.S. states to request more ventilators than they needed. He said the federal government had 10,000 in its stockpile. “Some states have more ventilators than they need, they don’t even like to admit it,” he said.
The president, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, also praised Republican governors who have not issued “stay at home” orders for their states.
“They’re doing very well and they’re doing a magnificent job of running their states,” he said.
Even as top doctors emphasized the importance and effectiveness of social distancing measures, Trump again seemed to chafe at their impact on the economy.
“We’re not going to destroy our country,” he said. “We cannot let this continue, so at a certain point some hard decisions are going to have to be made.”
The current federal guidelines, which include admonitions for people to wash their hands and avoid groups larger than 10, are in place through the end of April.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by David Gregorio)