WASHINGTON — President Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to confront the coronavirus outbreak on Friday morning but at the last minute scrapped plans to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, forgoing a chance to tour the nerve center of the government’s response to the health crisis.
As late as nearly 9 p.m. on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence publicly indicated that the trip was still on, telling reporters traveling with him to Washington State that the president would formally approve the spending measure while at the centers. “President Trump is expected to sign the legislation tomorrow as he visits the C.D.C. in Atlanta,” Mr. Pence said.
By 11:30 p.m., when the White House issued the president’s public schedule, however, the visit was no longer on the calendar. The White House gave conflicting explanations on Friday morning. A White House official initially said the president canceled the visit because he did not want to interfere with the work at the centers as its staff scrambled to get a grip on the virus. But then Mr. Trump told reporters it was called off because of a suspected case of coronavirus at the C.D.C. itself.
As he signed the spending bill at the White House, Mr. Trump said the report of an infection at C.D.C. turned out to be negative. “So I may be going,” he told reporters. “We’re going to see if they can turn it around.”
Mr. Trump will still fly to Nashville on Friday to visit the site of a deadly tornado and then from there will head to Florida where he will headline campaign fund-raising events and spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The C.D.C. is at the epicenter of an extraordinary crisis as the number of coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 100,000 and has sparked enough fear that investors are dumping stocks, businesses and nonprofit organizations are canceling conventions, travelers are scotching spring break vacations and schools are suspending study abroad programs.
As of Thursday evening, at least 226 people with the illness from the virus, Covid-19, have been treated in the United States and 14 have died, all but one in the Seattle area. The first cases near Washington were reported in a Maryland suburb.
The C.D.C. response has generated concern and criticism among many health experts, who have complained that the agency was slow to respond to the spread of the infection and imposed overly restrictive guidelines early on about who could be tested.
Even now, testing remains a major challenge. While Mr. Pence had said earlier in the week that “any American could be tested,” he acknowledged on Thursday that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
Mr. Pence said that the C.D.C.’s test supplier will distribute kits across the country “in just a matter of a few days” that will enable 1.2 million Americans to be tested and that by the end of next week an additional 4 million tests will be available. “But it’s still just a beginning,” he said. “As our nation continues to hear of new cases every day, we want to make sure that testing is available broadly.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday morning blamed China for not being more forthcoming early on about the outbreak there.
“The information that we got at the front end of this thing wasn’t perfect and has led us now to a place where much of the challenge we face today has put us behind the curve,” he said on CNBC. “That’s not the way infectious disease doctors tell me it should work. It’s not the way America works with transparency and openness and the sharing of the information that needs to take place.”