It took just a few hours for comments President Donald Trump made about the coronavirus during his rally on Friday evening in South Carolina to come back to haunt him.
During the rally, Trump — who has systematically dismantled America’s pandemic response capabilities since taking office and proposed huge cuts to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health as recently as earlier this month — noted that “so far we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States” and then tried to tarnish the media by saying, “you wonder — the press is in hysteria mode. CNN, fake news.”
During another part of his speech, Trump referred to Democrats’ alleged efforts to politicize the Trump administration’s preparations for a possible outbreak here at home as “their new hoax.”
Here’s Trump at his rally tonight in South Carolina dismissing worries about the coronavirus as the “new hoax” pic.twitter.com/Q58d7dI1cb— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 29, 2020
Coming as they did at the end of a week in which the stock market endured a historic slide among rising worries about the impact the coronavirus will have at home and abroad, Trump’s comments were meant to project the image that everything is under control. But using the word “hoax” in the context of talking about a possible pandemic outbreak that has already killed about 3,000 people around the world is obviously irresponsible.
Then, on Saturday, news of the first coronavirus death in the United States broke. Trump called a news conference to address the situation and was asked if he regrets the comments he made South Carolina — particularly his comments about a coronavirus-related “hoax.”
“No no no,” Trump responded. “‘Hoax’ referring to the action [Dems] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them.”
REPORTER: You used the word "hoax" to talk about this last night. Do you regret that?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 29, 2020
TRUMP: "No no no. 'Hoax' referring to the action [Dems] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we've done such a good job." pic.twitter.com/ffiCnLskxe
During another part of the news conference, Trump acknowledged the Washington state death but added that the person was “a medically high-risk patient in her late 50s” (Trump was wrong — the victim was actually a man.) He tried to reassure people, telling them that their chances of dying from the coronavirus are low: “Healthy people — if you’re healthy — you will probably go through a process and you’ll be fine.”
"Healthy people -- if you're healthy -- you will probably go through a process and you'll be fine" -- Trump on coronavirus pic.twitter.com/gdlRCWGC6h— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 29, 2020
Trump’s comments are true. While a lot is left to be learned about the coronavirus, researchers currently peg the death rate at about 1 percent. But 1 percent of the American people is more than 3 million people, which is why US public health officials like the CDC’s Nancy Messonnier have been calling for preparedness.
“The spread in other countries has raised our level of concern and our level of expectation we’re going to have community spread here,” Messonnier said Tuesday. “It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”
And the press conference bore this concern out: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said during Saturday’s news conference that the Washington death appears to be a case of community spread and not one where the victim traveled to a country where an outbreak has occurred.
But instead of focusing on getting Americans prepared, the president can’t resist the urge to try to score political points on the pandemic. Unfortunately, the facts quickly got in the way of the attempt he made on Friday to weaponize the coronavirus against Democrats.