After spending weeks downplaying the threat of the novel coronavirus, President Trump on Tuesday admitted that at least 100,000 Americans will likely die but said it would have been worse if he had listened to some people he claimed had great “common sense” who wanted to “just ride it out.”
It was not immediately clear who he was referring to, but the president himself had been pushing to loosen restrictions over the virus until just days ago, having suggested as recently as last week that, despite fatalities from the coronavirus health crisis growing, Americans could start to get back to normal by Easter since “we never turn the country off” for the flu.
By Tuesday night, however, after being shown potential death toll predictions by health officials, Trump abruptly took on a grave tone to warn of a “very, very painful” next few weeks.
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," Trump said.
“We're going to go through a very tough two weeks. And then hopefully, as the experts are predicting, as I think a lot of us are predicting after having studied it so hard, you're going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel. But this is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks,” he said, before going on to take credit for saving millions of lives with measures that he had frequently come out against.
Just over a week ago, Trump began calling for re-opening the country in time for Easter, repeatedly comparing the deadly coronavirus to the seasonal flu and suggesting that Americans could return to work and practice social distancing there. He went on to dismiss desperate pleas for medical equipment from local authorities, suggesting they did not really “need” all the life-saving machines they were asking for.
His comments and his suggested April 12 time-frame immediately sparked criticism, and governors dealing with the virus in their respective states pushed back on his plans. By Sunday, after a surge of deaths across the nation, the president had backed away from that vision.
And at Tuesday’s briefing, he appeared to pat himself on the back for following the protective measures, suggesting that some unnamed group of people had recommended doing nothing but he hadn't listened to them.
“What would have happened if we did nothing? Because there was a group that said, ‘Let’s just ride it out,’” he said, noting that even some people with “common sense” had offered such a recommendation.
If that had been the case, he said, 2.2 million people would have died in a short span.
“Now, I don't think that would have been possible because you would have had people dying all over the place,” Trump said. “This would not have been a normal life. How many people have even seen anybody die? You would have seen people dying on airplanes. You would have been seeing people dying in hotel lobbies. You would have seen death all over.”
Trump also emphasized that the virus is “not the flu,” despite his own constant comparisons to the flu when discussing the pandemic a little over a week ago.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu,” Trump said during a virtual Fox News town hall on March 24. “We don’t turn the country off. Every year.”
“But it's not the flu,” Trump said Tuesday. “It's vicious.”
Before the briefing was over, Trump’s warning about the next two weeks had grown to three weeks.
“This could be a hell of a bad two weeks," Trump said. “This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe even three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we haven't seen before.”