The tone of the president’s daily press briefing changed markedly yesterday as the White House gave a “best-case scenario” of 100,000 to 240,000 dead as a result of the coronavirus.
That’s not some liberal, wished-for nightmare. The White House says that the numbers, 100,000-240,000 dead, would result if we did everything right: maintained social distancing, radically increased testing, and kept the economy shuttered.
The White House coronavirus task force on Tuesday pleaded with Americans to abide by the administration’s extended social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of coronavirus as a somber President Trump told Americans to brace for “a very painful two weeks” and warned of thousands of more virus-related deaths.
“The surge is coming, and it’s coming pretty strong,” the president said in the White House briefing room in a lengthy press conference that lasted more than two hours.
Without the mitigation efforts, the death toll would have been in the millions. This is what the president will use to defend himself when the expected Democratic nitpicking begins about his response to the pandemic, as well as what he said and when he said it about the seriousness of the crisis.
While Trump sought to reassure Americans that the country would ultimately get through the pandemic, he declined to sugarcoat the severity of the pandemic and said that the battle against the contagion will be worse in the upcoming weeks.
“This is going to be a rough two week period,” Trump said. “As a nation we’re going to have a really rough two weeks. Our strength will be tested and our endurance will be tried.”
Gone were assurances that this was “like the flu” and that Trump “didn’t believe” most of the predictions for catastrophe. In late January, Trump was still downplaying the severity of the coming crisis.
In late January, Trump, in an interview with CNBC, said this: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” The US did not, in fact, have it totally under control. As of Tuesday morning, there were almost 161,000 confirmed cases in the United States and 3,000 deaths.
Despite the number of infections skyrocketing, Trump said this a few days later.
In early February, Trump told Sean Hannity this: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” He had not, in fact, “shut it down.” Again, almost 161,000 confirmed cases in the United States and 3,000 deaths.
I understand Trump’s desire to push back against the hysteria, but a measured, reasoned response from the president was called for and what we got were blame-shifting and bombast. Trump doesn’t do measured and reasoned. He’s not disciplined enough, nor knowledgeable enough — even after being carefully briefed — to have told us what we should know without the hysteria of the media and the left or the disbelief and conspiracy theories of the right.
If Trump had done everything his opponents are saying he should have done, I sincerely doubt whether there would be a big difference in the number of lives lost. The nature of this coronavirus — hiding in healthy people for 10-14 days while they expose potentially hundreds to the disease COVID-19 — means that it would have been impossible to stem the tide of infections. Even with early and massive testing — something not even the media’s favorite example of virus response, China, ever did — the mobility of American society would have spread this disease everywhere in a matter of a couple of weeks.
That will never be mentioned, of course. Trump will get the blame and the American people will render their judgment in November.