US President Donald Trump, after spending months declaring the US had defeated the coronavirus and vowing it soon will “disappear,” on Tuesday warned Americans the outbreak that has killed at least 141,000 in the country is likely to grow more dire.
“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” the president said as he revived his regular coronavirus briefings, which he has bragged received big cable television ratings, The Independent reported.
Notably, he implored Americans to wear face coverings after dismissing the practice for months as many of his supporters said mask requirements limited their freedoms.
“Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, get a mask,” said Trump, who stood behind the familiar blue lectern alone, rather than with members of the White House coronavirus task force. “They have an effect.”
Democratic lawmakers, however, have called his response slow and ineffective, and they criticized him for refusing to wear a mask in public until recently.
As members of both parties and some of his top aides struggle to even begin talking about a fifth coronavirus economic recovery bill, the president said the country would not shut down again because it would be too economically damaging.
A permanent shutdown would be “completely unsustainable,” he said, as the poor economic outlook continues to deliver him declining poll numbers in his race against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“We want to get rid of it … As soon as we can,” Trump said, then arguing vaccine development is well underway.
Even as states like Arizona, Florida and South Carolina see massive spikes in confirmed cases, the president repeated his unsupported or explained claim that “the virus will disappear”.
Trump and his team shut down daily virus briefings earlier this year after several proved politically damaging, including one when he suggested Americans could inject themselves with disinfectant to possibly kill the virus. During another, he grew angry with two female reporters before storming out of the Rose Garden.
But even though he mostly stuck to the script and kept things short, around 25 minutes, the president found moments to be defiant.
“We did a lot of things right,” he said. “It’s a shame that it happened … China should have stopped it.”
Despite being criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for what they call a racist phrase, Trump twice during the first few minutes of the briefing called the disease “the China virus”.
But he downplayed his own criticism of mask-wearing and dismissive attitude about other tactics like social distancing.
The White House is trying to portray Trump as taking the virus more seriously. At one point, as a radio reporter was asking the president about his “more realistic” message on Tuesday evening; the president nodded as the reporter spoke.
The scene was a reversal, for one night at least, as Trump provided facts and figures and admitted the outbreak is getting worse. It played out amid even more negative polling for the president, who now trails Mr. Biden by double-digits in just about every national poll and in key battleground states by over 6 percentage points.
The former vice president criticized the president for his pandemic response even before Trump entered the White House briefing room.
“No country has done what we’ve done, walk away,” Biden told MSNBC. “There is no leadership here … He surrendered.”
The president said “great progress” has been made on a fifth coronavirus economic relief package with lawmakers and members of his staff. But, on Capitol Hill, another scene played out.
Senate Republicans left a caucus meeting frustrated, taking shots at one another and bickering to reporters about disagreements on how much more the federal government should spend to react to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Hours before, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president would not veto any possible measure if it contained new money for testing. Instead, he wants funds for “targeted testing”. She did not define what that means. Ms. McEnany also said the president wants “at least $70bn” included to help schools reopen in the fall.
The White House also deployed the vice president Mike Pence and others to South Carolina to discuss reopening schools, with Pence saying, if his children were still school-aged, he would “absolutely” feel fine sending them back to the classroom. He did not address medical experts’ concerns that children can spread the disease to at-risk groups without ever feeling sick.
For one day, the White House struck a much more serious tone as confirmed cases and deaths continued to climb: There have been at least 3.8 million confirmed cases in the US, with some analysts saying that number could be 3 times to 12 times higher.
“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” Trump said, “something I don’t like saying about things – but that’s the way it is”.
When pressed on that remark and whether he takes responsibility for what he predicts, Trump was sure to try sharing any blame.
“The governors are working with me, I’m working with the governors,” he said. “We’re working hand in hand. I think we’re all responsible. I view it as a team.”
Many Democratic governors, and some Republicans, see that much differently.