After two senior administration officials – Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx – described an expected deadly April with tens of thousands of deaths, Mr Trump warned the country of a “hell of a bad” few weeks.
“They’re going to be facing a war zone,” he said of medical tents and freezers for the deceased in New York City. “That’s what it is … We’re going to lose thousands of people.”
The president went so far as to call a projection of 100,000 deaths a potentially “very low number”. And he contended that he did not lull Americans into a false sense of security by at times dismissing the disease, saying he realised the lethality and contagiousness of the virus “because of what was going on in China“.
The president and his top public health officials were noticeably sombre, with Mr Trump ceding the White House briefing room lectern, uncharacteristically, over and over to experts even when questions were addressed directly to him. They could not tell reporters when the virus arrived inside the United States nor whether implementing ”social distancing” and other measures might have kept the disease from spreading – and preventing what could be an April with substantially more deaths on US soil.
The Trump administration has been widely criticised by Democratic lawmakers and public health experts for what they see as a slow federal effort to ramp up testing kits, implementing distancing measures and getting medial supplies and equipment into the hands of medical professionals.
They warned of hundreds of thousands of deaths being possible in the coming days, and a huge spike in confirmed cases and disease spread in the next two or three weeks.
“This is a number we need to anticipate, but don’t have to accept as being inevitable,” Mr Fauci said of the 100,000 deaths projection, which he said is based on government modelling. “We want to do much better than that.”
It will be up to the American people, he said, to keep the death toll lower, meaning following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on “social distancing,” hand washing and other measures.
The president and his team warned of a deadly April and potentially May, with backlogs for reading test kits, and large amounts of medical supplies and equipment that will be needed. And they pleaded with the American people to be more serious in carrying out federal guidelines to stay at home, among other steps, they say could help avoid up to 200,000 deaths inside the US.
The session was perhaps the darkest and most grim daily White House coronavirus briefing yet as the president and his team made clear life in America will not return to normal any time soon.
The warnings of 100,000 deaths is with Americans doing everything they are being asked – but the Trump team acknowledged the guidelines are not being followed that closely in all areas.
“I want all Americans to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to go through a tough two weeks,” a serious president said, touting measures he claims he took for preventing what he is selling as a death toll in the US that could have hit 2.2 million. He has yet to provide data to support that claim.
His administration has said cases could soar between now and Easter Sunday, adding he has approved shipments of ventilators to Michigan, New York and Louisiana.
Weeks ago, Mr Trump said he wanted all or large parts of the country “open for business” by 12 April; now he has extended the CDC guidelines through 30 April. It seems likely that goal will again be extended.
Those CDC guidelines are the basis for state and local officials closing bars, restaurants and other so-called “non-essential” businesses with the goal of keeping people as separated as possible.
A downtrodden president issued several versions of this warning: “This is going to be a very painful two weeks.”
In a briefing mostly devoid of politics, Mr Trump replied to a question about whether he agrees with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assessment that House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and Senate trial distracted the federal government, he said he agreed before offering a self-congratulatory caveat.”
“It was a hoax,” he said of the House probe and subsequent Senate trial. “But I don’t think I would have done any better [without impeachment].”