Trump lashes out at critics as Fauci warns New Orleans and Detroit will 'take off'

Tom McCarthy

Donald Trump called Nancy Pelosi a “sick puppy” on Monday, after the House speaker said the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis would contribute to deaths in the US that might have been avoided.

Related: The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life

“She’s a sick puppy … that’s a terrible thing to say,” Trump said in a rambling hour-long call-in interview to the cable show Fox & Friends. “My poll numbers are the highest they’ve ever been because of her.”

While the president was attacking his adversaries, the top infectious-disease expert in the US warned that smaller cities were about to witness a rapid acceleration in coronavirus cases.

New Orleans and Detroit are showing signs that “they’re going to take off” and other, smaller cities are “percolating”, Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, by Monday nearly 143,000 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed in the US, with more than 2,500 deaths. New York is by far the state worst hit, with nearly 60,000 cases and about 1,000 deaths.

As the emergency has accelerated, Trump has stepped up his war of words with Democrats and the media, in what critics see as an attempt to distract from the administration’s failings in confronting the virus.

Widespread testing remains unavailable in most of the US, healthcare workers and local leaders raise a daily alarm about dire shortages of medical equipment, and state leaders have imposed a patchwork of restrictions – or declined to impose restrictions – in what emergency response experts have described as a vacuum of federal leadership.

In news conferences, Trump has swung between false assurance – that business as normal would resume by Easter – and crediting himself with avoiding what early models showed could be a worst-case scenario of millions of deaths.

In his interview on Monday, Trump told the Fox News hosts he had saved the country from “deaths like you have never seen before”.

Pelosi told CNN on Sunday that “the president’s denial at the beginning was deadly” and said “his delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly … As the president fiddles, people are dying.”

Trump also repeated a baseless claim he made on Sunday, accusing states including New York, which has had to erect emergency medical facilities in Central Park and move in refrigerator trucks to temporarily store bodies, of squandering medical equipment.

Trump’s charges drew fire from New York’s mayor.

“I find that insulting to our healthcare workers,” Bill de Blasio told CNN. “I find it insensitive.

“What the president should be doing is praising our healthcare workers, not suggesting somehow they’re doing something wrong with the supplies that have been sent. That’s just insensitive and it’s unhelpful.”

The long-running feud between Trump and New York state leaders simmered as dramatic pictures emerged of the US navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arriving in New York harbor. The ship, which can accommodate about 1,000 patients, will not treat coronavirus victims but will take other patients to relieve hospitals on land.

“Welcome to New York, USNS Comfort,” Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “We knew from the outset that expanded hospital capacity was critical. We asked and the federal government answered.”

The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, in Manhattan as the USNS Comfort arrives in New York. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Other states continued to ramp up their responses. The governor of Maryland issued a stay-at-home order effective from Monday evening, becoming the 23rd state to do so. Michigan extended unemployment programs to workers who do not qualify for state benefits, including independent contractors, the self-employed and seasonal workers.

Vermont issued an order requiring any person coming from outside the state “for anything other than an essential purpose” to home-quarantine for 14 days. Arizona announced that schools would remain closed through the end of the spring term. And the Republican governor of Florida, who has resisted issuing a statewide stay-at-home order, urged residents in four southern counties to stay home through “mid-May”.

In California, the San Francisco Bay Area’s shelter-in-place rules were extended on Monday through the end of April. The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, announced at a press conference that the number of patients hospitalized had doubled and the number of patients admitted to ICUs had tripled over the past four days.

The governor called on healthcare professionals who have recently retired and those who are nearing completion of nursing and medical degrees to meet the “human capital surge” and join the frontline fight against the virus as part of a new initiative. The professionals Newsom wants to enlist in the new California Health Corps include medical doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, behavioral health scientists, pharmacists, EMTs, medical and administrative assistants, as well as certified nursing assistants.

Fauci said at the weekend the US could see more than a million cases and suffer 100,000 to 200,000 deaths. “I don’t want to see it, I’d like to avoid it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths,” he said on Monday.

As recently as late February, Trump claimed publicly that the virus would simply “disappear”. But on Fox & Friends he credited his administration with avoiding a death toll in the millions.

“That’s a lot,” he said.

Political leaders from both parties have indicated that Washington could follow its $2tn coronavirus relief package with more stimulus bills, but Trump on Monday criticized Democrats’ demands for protections of the 2020 election in November.

As part of the initial relief package, Democrats sought a provision, later discarded, that would allow all voters to cast ballots by mail.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump told Fox & Friends. “They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Mario Koran contributed reporting