We’re committed to keeping our readers informed.
We’ve removed our paywall from essential coronavirus news stories. Become a subscriber to support our journalists. Subscribe now.
In a marathon coronavirus press conference on Tuesday, one estimate rang through the misinformation: The White House projects that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19. Though White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx hedged the assessment, saying, “We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” President Trump offered a more solemn prediction: “This could be hell of a bad two weeks.”
The projection is consistent with one provided on Sunday by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Anthony Fauci, who estimated that up to 200,000 Americans could die from the pandemic. Fauci, too, was eager to emphasize that extended social distancing measures could help bring that number down. “We are continuing to see things go up,” Fauci said of the “sobering” estimate on Tuesday. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”
According to a report from the Washington Post, the deadly estimates — together with an understanding that mass casualties would be bad for his reelection prospects — helped convince the president over the weekend not to reopen the economy by Easter. But in Tuesday’s press conference, Trump portrayed himself as a clear backer for extended social distancing, not the loudest voice for bringing American life back to normal in early April. He said “a lot of people” told him to “ride it out. Don’t do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu.’ But it’s not the flu. It’s vicious.” (A little over a month ago, Trump told Americans to “view this the same as the flu.”)
While Trump appears to be over his phase of belittling the crisis, his new argument posits that 100,000 deaths — almost as many as the country suffered in World War I — would be a tremendous victory, without mentioning that the loss of life was in part multiplied by his own failure to act early on in the crisis. By Tuesday morning, more Americans had died from the coronavirus than battlefield deaths in Afghanistan. By Wednesday night, the number is expected to pass the American death count in Iraq.