Donald Trump said he intends to re-open the United States from its coronavirus shutdown sooner than in three or four months, as some experts have predicted the lockdown should last, even saying he might consider such an order when a White House-mandated 15-day period to shutter much of the economy ends next week. However, it is unclear if state and local officials would even follow such presidential guidance – especially in hard-hit areas.
"Our country wasn't built to be shut down," Mr Trump said during an evening briefing at the White House. Once medical officials signal it is "okay," he added, "Let's get back to work."
Later came this presidential vow: "I'm not talking about months, I can tell you that." And even later, he appeared to mock his public health experts.
"If it were up to the doctors, they may say, 'Let's keep it shut down. Let's shut down the entire world,'" he said, sounding exasperated.
"We can't do that," Mr Trump said with his arms held straight out, for effect.
Appearing to know that local and state officials would not be bound by any presidential decree to "open" up the country, he said "governors will have a lot of leeway" on they respond.
At one point, the president noted the virus outbreak is not as serious in many rural areas, naming Nebraska and Idaho because those countries are affected "not nearly to the extent of New York."
Trump administration officials have talked about, without providing clear evidence, the virus outbreak ending in late May or June. But the president's comments in the White House briefing room made clear he does not intend to allow the partial lockdown to go on that long.
And, once again, the president touted the state of the economy under his watch, saying the coronavirus undercut gains made during his term. Mr Trump had been banking on a strong economy as a basis of his re-election campaign.
The president said an announcement to that end is coming "soon," but he did not offer further details.
"We're going to open up our country to business because our country was meant to be open. ... The engine for that system is we have to have companies," Trump said, saying that likely would happen "very, very soon."
Still, he said "it's going to get bad" while also touting the flu as possibly being a bigger killer, projecting influenza might cause 50,000 deaths in America this year. So far, there are over 500 coronavirus deaths. He also continued to focus on the virus outbreak's body count.
"You look at automobile accidents. Which are far greater than any numbers we're talking about. That doesn't mean we're going to tell everybody no more driving of cars," he said.
But last week, his top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci said this about the car accidents comparison: ""That's totally way out... I don't think with any moral conscience you could say why don't we just let it rip and happen and let X percent of the people die." Mr Fauci was not at Monday evening's briefing.
Though Mr Trump repeatedly on Monday signalled he is growing impatient with the situation, his own government has projected in its worst case scenario model that Americans could still be getting infected in December. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its most gloomy projection, estimates 160 million to 210 million Americans might be infected by Christmas. That said, other models from academic and other institutions offer a range of estimates, many falling somewhere in between the CDC's worst-case projection and Mr Trump's indirect assessment that the threat is abated come summer.
Meantime, despite his own public health team urging caution, the president continued to pitch specific medications as possible solutions to treat COVID-19.
"It would be a gift from God," he said, "and a real game changer."