President Donald Trump took part in a virtual town hall event on Sunday hosted by Fox News, in which he — yet again — altered his projections for how many Americans could die from COVID-19.
Though the president made sure to say that no deaths at all would have been preferable, he seemed to imply that no matter the outcome, he would still view his actions as a success.
“Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person out of this,” Trump said. But he credited his administration with staving off millions of deaths, which would have happened, Trump said, if he hadn’t pushed for social distancing measures at all in mid-March.
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Trump also lashed out at China, seemingly putting all of the blame for the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. on that nation’s leaders. “And my opinion is they’ve made a mistake, they tried to cover it, they tried to put it out,” Trump said. “It’s like a fire. You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They couldn’t put out the fire.”
Trump’s new numbers are a notable contrast to what he and his administration have said would be a successful outcome prior to last weekend, as the number of deaths counted keeps rising. On April 20, for instance, Trump implied that anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 deaths would be a good result, since previous projections put the potential death toll between 100,000 to 240,000. And last week, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner called 60,000 deaths a “great success story.”
As of Monday morning, close to 70,000 deaths have been recorded in the United States due to COVID-19. But while Trump keeps changing his barometer for success, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health have identified tens of thousands of excess deaths that have occurred from the start of March to mid-April, numbers that, according to reporting from Vice News, suggest the U.S. may have already surpassed 100,000 deaths from coronavirus.
New research also shows that ending social distancing measures, as Trump has been pushing for several weeks, will likely result in a higher death toll as well.
According to figures from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (the president’s alma mater), if stay-at-home rules remain in place, about 117,000 Americans are predicted to die, in total, from March to the end of June. But if social distancing measures are relaxed, with a full “reopening” of the country happening right now, that number jumps up to 350,000 dead in that timeframe — a number that’s more than 45 percent higher than the White House’s grimmest predictions made in early April.
To ensure numbers stay lower rather than higher, Deborah Birx, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, has stated that social distancing should remain in place “through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another.”
Yet during the town hall with Fox News on Sunday, Trump stated that the time was right for a number of states to do otherwise.
“Certain states are going to have to take a little more time getting opened and they’re doing that. Some states, I think frankly, aren’t going fast enough,” he said.
Trump’s efforts to put blame solely on China for the growth of the pandemic in the U.S. during the town hall are also misplaced, especially since the president ignored warnings from his intelligence officials about the disease possibly as many as a dozen times.
Some of the deaths in the U.S., experts have noted, may be due to the slow response by the Trump administration to deal with the disease when others were calling for more action to be taken early on.
One study found that as many as 37,000 deaths could have been avoided had the president insisted on implementing social distancing measures just one week earlier than he had in March. During that time, however, Trump was incorrectly comparing COVID-19 to the flu, and in late February, had dismissed criticisms of his response as a new political “hoax” against him.