Infections were rising in 21 states on Wednesday, but Washington had other business.
The coronavirus may not be done with the United States, but the nation’s capital seems to be done with the coronavirus. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties were examining police brutality. The Senate health committee was contending with getting children back to school. The White House, which halted its daily virus briefings more than a month ago, was wrestling with race relations.
As the pandemic’s grim numbers continue to climb, President Trump and lawmakers in both parties are exhibiting their usual short attention span, alarming public health experts who worry that a second wave of infections could deliver a punch more brutal than the first while the nation’s political leaders are looking the other way.
In May, as he pressed to reopen the country, Mr. Trump announced that he planned to wind down the coronavirus task force, only to reverse himself, saying that he had not realized how “popular” it was. But its public presence has largely disappeared since then. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday that it had met this week, albeit without the public news conference that used to follow such meetings.
Public health experts and communications strategists say that regular, clear and consistent messages to the public are essential. They say the absence of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who had been a steady presence on television, and the administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, has created a confusing and potentially harmful void. (Dr. Fauci made brief reappearances this week, talking with biotech executives on Tuesday and appearing on the ABC program “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.)
Inside the White House, Mr. Trump has attended significantly fewer meetings and briefings with the coronavirus task force, according to senior administration officials. He has begun plotting his return to the campaign trail, even as cases are climbing in key swing states.
For nearly two weeks now, the United States has been convulsed by the twin crises of the pandemic and civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody after gasping for air with an officer’s knee against his neck.
Congress continues to address the coronavirus crisis — in addition to a health committee hearing Wednesday, the treasury secretary appeared before the Senate Banking Committee, where he defended the administration’s decision to reopen the economy. But the big news on Capitol Hill was the testimony of Mr. Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, before the House Judiciary Committee.