WASHINGTON (AP) — For weeks, President Trump carved out a trail of groundless assurances about the coronavirus pandemic as health officials, governors and local officials sounded alarm about what was coming — and already here. That sunlit trail now has hit a wall.
On Sunday, Trump appeared to be bracing the country for a grim death toll as he accepted the advice of public-health experts and gave up on letting federal social-distance guidelines lapse Monday as he intended. In doing so, he acknowledged what his officials had told him — that 100,000 people or many more could die from Covid-19 in the United States before it's over. And he recognized it won't be over for some time.
Here is a look at some of his statements over the past week as a reality check caught up with him:
TRUMP: "I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter." — Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday
TRUMP: "We have to open up our country, I'm sorry." — conference call with governors Tuesday, audio of which was obtained by The Associated Press
THE FACTS: The public-health community, governors and many others knew when they heard Trump say this that a revival by Easter, April 12, was not going to happen. On Sunday, Trump extended the federal government's restrictive distancing recommendations until April 30. That may not be enough, either.
To be clear, the federal government did not close down the country and won't be reopening it. Restrictions on public gatherings, workplaces, mobility, store operations, schools and more were ordered by states and communities, not Washington. The federal government has imposed border controls; otherwise its social-distancing actions are mostly recommendations, not mandates.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health cautioned that the virus outbreak could ultimately kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans with possibly millions infected as it continues to surge across the nation. Trump shifted his tone and backed off trying to rush the country back to work and to normalcy in a matter of a few weeks.
TRUMP: "I mean, we have never closed the country before, and we have had some pretty bad flus, and we have had some pretty bad viruses." — Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday
THE FACTS: He's making a bad comparison.
The new coronavirus is not the same as the annual flu because it's a disease that hadn't been seen before in humans. For that reason, human populations lack immunity to the virus. It can spread unchecked, except by measures such as social distancing.
TRUMP: "Over an eight day span, the United States now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span. Great job!" — tweet Wednesday
THE FACTS: The comparison with South Korea isn't very illuminating. The United States has more than six times the population of South Korea, about 330 million compared with 50 million. Yet South Korea is testing four times more people as a percentage of its population.
The two countries are also at different stages in their outbreaks. Daily case counts are rapidly rising in the United States, where the coronavirus took hold later on. In South Korea, the curve has been leveling off.