Trump says he will do "a very good job” if only 200,000 people die in US from COVID-19

The president bragged about his TV ratings before extending restrictions through April 30 and predicting mass death

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 30, 2020 11:10AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and calling to "reopen the economy" by Easter, President Donald Trump on Sunday urged Americans to stay home until at least April 30 and predicted that it would be "good" news if only 100,000 to 200,000 people die in the U.S.

Trump, who said he wanted to see churches packed with people on Easter Sunday, announced during a news conference that he had extended federal guidance urging people to stay inside and avoid groups of more than 10 people until April 30.

"The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end," Trump said, predicting that the virus would continue to wreak havoc for months. "We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery. We think, by June 1 . . . a lot of great things will be happening."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Monday that he had to argue "strongly" to get Trump to drop his original plan.

"We felt that if we prematurely pulled back, we would only form an acceleration or a rebound of something, which would have put you behind where you were before," he said. "And that's the reason why we argued strongly with the president that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them — and he did listen."

Fauci predicted Sunday that millions of Americans would be infected with the virus and 100,000 to 200,000 people would die, based on current models.

Trump, who predicted last month that the number of cases would soon drop "close to zero," argued at Sunday's news conference that Fauci's projection would be "good news," citing a London study that projected 2.2 million Americans would die without intervention. Trump cited the study as if it was brand new, even though it had reached the White House long before his call to "reopen" by Easter.

"You're talking about 2.2 million deaths — 2.2 million people from this," Trump said. "And so, if we can 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 all together have done a very good job."

But Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, told NBC News that the country could only limit the death toll to 200,000 "if we do things almost perfectly."

Ahead of the news conference, Trump also bragged about his TV ratings, quoting from a New York Times article that compared the ratings of his news briefings to those of Monday Night Football and "The Bachelor." Trump blatantly deleted part of the quote he shared, which said "public health experts say that could be a dangerous thing."

Trump has repeatedly come under fire for disseminating false information at the briefings, leading to calls for news networks to stop airing the president's remarks live.

The president similarly used Sunday's news conference to push a new conspiracy theory that hospitals were misusing the protective equipment needed to protect health workers against the virus. Trump questioned why one unnamed hospital had seen the number of masks they use jump from 10,000 to 20,000 to "300,000" as they deal with an unprecedented pandemic that has led to equipment shortages around the country.

"How do you go from using 10,000 to 20,000 [masks] to 300,000?" Trump asked. "Even though this is different, something's going on. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?"

Trump later suggested it was not "hoarding" but "worse" than hoarding. There is no evidence of anything nefarious beyond hospitals overwhelmed with an unprecedented number of patients who have a virus that requires medical workers to wear masks for protective purposes. The comments came after reports of record-level 911 calls in the city.

"Our front line health care workers are giving their all. They're in harm's way, and you know, we need to get them relief," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday. "We need to get them support and protection, but also relief. They can't keep up at this pace.''

Trump's attack on hospitals, while his administration is under fire for failing to provide sufficient amounts of protective equipment to states, drew a strong rebuke from former Vice President Joe Biden.

"This is ridiculous and completely false," he said Sunday. "Today's conspiracy-mongering from our president is among the most reckless and ignorant moves he has made during this crisis — and there have been many. Lives hang in the balance."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also slammed Trump's delays in providing medical equipment to states Sunday.

"The president — his denial at the beginning — was deadly," she told CNN. "His delaying of getting equipment to where it continued — his continued delay in getting equipment to where it's needed is deadly."

Trump has responded to criticism that his administration has been slow to respond to state shortages by attacking governors and demanding that they treat him nicely.

PBS NewsHour reporter Yamiche Alcindor questioned Trump about his claim that New York does not "need" 30,000 life-saving ventilators, as medical experts have predicted.

"You've said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment that governors are requesting — they don't actually need," Alcindor said.

"I did not say that. I didn't say that," Trump falsely claimed, having said exactly that.

"You know, why don't you people act — why don't you act in a little more positive . . . It's always get you, get you, get you," Trump complained. "And you know what, that's why nobody trusts the media anymore."

As Alcindor repeatedly tried to finish her question, Trump cut her off.

"Excuse me, you didn't hear me," he said. "That's why you used to work for The Times and now you work for somebody else. Look, let me tell you something. Be nice. Don't be threatening."

"I was quoting you directly from your interview with Sean Hannity," Alcindor shot back.

The clash over New York came after Trump on Saturday floated an "enforceable" quarantine to stop residents in the New York area from traveling to other parts of the country, prompting confusion and panic.

Trump backed off the threat hours later, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert urging individuals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to avoid non-essential travel for 14 days.

Fauci told CNN that the president backed off his threat after "very intensive discussions."

"We felt the better way to do this would be an advisory as opposed to a very strict quarantine," he said. "And the president agreed."

Birx told NBC News that "no state, no metro area will be spared."

"What I wanted to be very clear on is every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York and do everything right now to prevent it," Birx said. "If they mitigate now before they start seeing cases in the emergency room and in the hospital — once you see those, the virus has been spreading for days to weeks. So this is really my call on every mayor to prepare now."

Pelosi told CNN that the Trump administration received ample warnings that the virus would wreak havoc on American cities long before it made its way to the U.S., but they were ignored by the as the president sought to downplay the risk.

"I don't know what the scientists said to him. When did this president know about this? And what did he know? What did he know, and when did he know it? That's for an after-action review," she said. "But as the president fiddles, people are dying. And we just have to take every precaution."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Anthony Fauci Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Nancy Pelosi Politics