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At the first formal press briefing with his coronavirus task force on Feb. 26, President Trump said he didn’t agree with the assessment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that an outbreak was “inevitable” in the United States, noting that the country had just 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths attributed to the virus.
“When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” Trump said at the time. “We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.”
Ever since, Trump has been moving the goalposts on the pandemic, and on Sunday, with coronavirus cases and deaths mounting, Trump said that keeping the U.S. death toll between 100,000 and 200,000 would be “a very good job.”
“If we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000, that’s a horrible number, maybe even less, but to 100,000 — so we have between 100- and 200,000 — we altogether have done a very good job,” Trump said during a task force press briefing in the White House Rose Garden.
The president repeatedly cited a projection by medical experts on the task force that as many as 2.2 million people would have died if the administration had not instituted social distancing and other mitigation measures.
“These are 2.2 million people would have died if we didn’t do what we’re doing,” Trump said at the briefing, during which he cited that number 16 times. “And now we’re looking at numbers that are going to be much, much, much lower than that. And it makes everything we’re doing feel much better to me.”
In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show on Monday, Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House task force, predicted there would be up to 200,000 deaths in the U.S. even “if we do things almost perfectly.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic, there have been more than 143,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States — more than any other country — and over 2,500 deaths attributed to the virus.
There are more than 740,000 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, and more than 35,000 deaths.
The president’s latest comments come amid criticism that his administration was too slow in responding to the coronavirus threat — and that he sought to downplay the risks against the advice of doctors and medical experts as the outbreak took hold.
In press briefings and tweets, Trump has repeatedly contrasted his administration’s handling of the coronavirus with the Obama administration’s response to the swine flu epidemic, which was overseen by then-Vice President Joe Biden. As many as 17,000 Americans died in that outbreak in 2009–2010.
His last tweet on the subject came on March 15.
“You can’t spin a pandemic,” David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, wrote Sunday on Twitter. “People are sick. People are dying. The media is covering the grim reality of the pandemic and the government’s response, which was laggard. This enrages him.”
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