Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday called the coronavirus a “pandemic,” using a term that has not been used by the White House or government health agencies as the Trump administration struggles to stay on message in response to the virus’ outbreak.
“Hopefully we can get past this coronavirus pandemic very quickly and get back to the trade,” Perdue said while speaking to farmers at the Commodity Classic conference in San Antonio, according to audio of his remarks obtained by CNN.
The secretary’s use of the word is out of sync with the official message from the Trump administration, which has sought to downplay fears of a pandemic. Global health officials have not labeled the virus’ outbreak a pandemic, either.
All public messaging on the coronavirus is supposed to be cleared by Vice President Mike Pence’s office, an attempt to get the Trump administration on the same page after administration officials blamed a series of mixed messages from senior officials earlier in the week for critical media coverage.
Pence is leading the administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.
The basis for Perdue’s use of the term is unclear.
CNN has reached out to the Department of Agriculture for clarification but has not yet heard back.
The White House is declining to comment.
“I know the coronavirus has all of us sort of concerned right now over the impact globally,” Perdue said during his remarks in San Antonio, according to the audio recording. “The markets have had a big impact on stock and commodity markets based on the potential threat of coronavirus. Once again I’m proud of the President and Vice President Pence for their preemptive action in helping to keep us safe while not panicking about this. I think you all need to go about your jobs in the way that you have been, producing safe, reliable, abundant food for all of us in that way, that’s the best thing we could do – is go back and do what you’ve been doing.”
He later continued, “The virus, just because of logistics, airports have been jammed and people not getting to work but (inaudible) we’re seeing the dribble back now. We’re seeing some evidence of unloading taking place and hopefully we can get past this coronavirus pandemic very quickly and get back to the trade.”
President Donald Trump briefly alluded to the virus as a possible pandemic Thursday during a meeting with African American leaders, saying, “I know politics. And, you know, politics is fine. But when it comes time to talk about pandemics or whatever you may want to call it, you got to get away from politics.”
On Friday, Trump appeared at the conference via video message ahead of Perdue’s remarks, according to a video posted on Twitter by an attendee.
Officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they expect the novel coronavirus will spread within American communities.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said this week.
Still, global health officials maintain the coronavirus is an outbreak or an epidemic, which means more than a normal number cases of an illness in a community or region.
“If we say there’s pandemic of coronavirus, we’re essentially accepting that every human on the planet will be exposed to that virus,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, during a news conference on Friday. “The data does not support that as yet.”