President Donald Trump gave an interview to the New York Post Monday, in which he lavished praised upon himself, seemed to suggest the worst of the pandemic was behind the US, and projected a hope and optimism about the coronavirus that does not appear to be shared by the American public.
“The one thing that the pandemic has taught us is that I was right,” Trump said. “You know, I had people say, ‘No, no, it’s good. You keep — you do this and that.’ Now those people are really agreeing with me. And that includes medicine and other things, you know.”
It would have been great if Trump had been right — if he were, the novel coronavirus would be under control; the president was adamant in February that “like a miracle, it will disappear.” The number of confirmed coronavirus cases would be in the double digits; and the number of deaths would be in the single digits. Perhaps a drug like hydroxychloroquine would have cleared any lingering disease, and the world would have a vaccine. And millions of people currently without work would be earning money to provide for themselves and their families.
Instead, the US death toll is approaching 70,000 as of May 5, and the president himself has revised his estimate of the number of people who will ultimately lose their lives, telling Fox News on Sunday, “We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80, to 100,000 people.”
As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has explained, the daily number of new confirmed cases and Covid-19 related deaths has remained fairly steady for weeks, suggesting that the US’s style of social distancing can only reduce the spread of the disease so much. (Other countries, like Italy, more successfully contained their outbreaks with more aggressive shelter-in-place orders and measures such as contact tracing of the disease.) Deaths and infections in America will likely increase now that social distancing measures are being relaxed.
Despite all this, Trump told the Post, “I think [Americans are] starting to feel good now. The country’s opening again. We saved millions of lives, I think.”
Americans aren’t starting to feel good — and should be concerned as nonessential businesses begin to reopen
It isn’t clear what’s making the president feel that Americans are “starting to feel good,” but it certainly isn’t polls.
A Washington Post/University of Maryland April 28 to May 3 poll released Tuesday found that 63 percent of Americans are worried about contracting Covid-19 — and that 38 percent believe “the worst is yet to come” with respect to the pandemic (30 percent said we’re currently living through the worst period).
The same poll, which surveyed 1,005 US adults by telephone and has a 3.5 percentage point margin of error, found that most Americans are uncomfortable with nonessential businesses reopening — for instance, 78 percent and 67 percent said they’d be uncomfortable going to a restaurant and a clothing store, respectively, should they be open. And 44 percent said they currently feel “uncomfortable” going to the grocery store.
Other recent polls found similar levels of anxiety about the pandemic; an Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday found most Americans expressing concern Covid-19 deaths are worse than has been reported, while an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released last week found half of all Americans have lost work or wages due to the coronavirus.
In short, things are not going well. But Trump maintains the opposite is true, and has been increasingly speaking as if the coronavirus is an issue that the country has conquered and can now move past.
Sunday, he tweeted, “And then came a Plague, a great and powerful Plague, and the World was never to be the same again! But America rose from this death and destruction, always remembering its many lost souls, and the lost souls all over the World, and became greater than ever before!”
Notably, all of that tweet is in the past tense. In his interview with the Post, Trump also seemed to suggest the problem was in the past, saying, “We did the right thing and now we’re bringing the country back.”
But the right thing wasn't done, and anti-coronavirus work still needs doing. Test kits are still in short supply and high demand — so much so that Maryland has the ones it smuggled in from South Korea housed at a secret location under armed guard. A national contract tracing system has yet to be established — something that is a particularly pressing need now that states are beginning to reopen.
Rather than address these needs in any substantive way, Trump has been dismissive and has adopted the sort of sunny outlook he had in the early days of the pandemic. He has certainly said, as he did during a Fox News town hall Sunday, that the death toll will be high, but he called death numbers in the 100,000 range a “successful” outcome. And he is also giving the American people statements like something else he told the Post Monday: “I think there’s a great optimism. I don’t know if you see it, but I think there’s a great optimism now.”
Governors should let roads and highway construction begin before heavy traffic starts, which will be soon. Some Governors never stopped, which proved to be very smart. They built and fixed roads during long no traffic periods. Also, saved big dollars!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2020
Experts, meanwhile, are pessimistic. Internal CDC documents first reported on by the New York Times Monday show projections of a steep increase in daily deaths beginning May 14, and that 3,000 Americans will be dying per day by June 1. Daily new cases could reach 200,000 by that same date, the documents claim. Justin Lessler, the creator of the model and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins told the Washington Post the data was a preliminary analysis not yet ready for public release. But Lessler also said he believes 100,000 new cases per day by June 1 is possible, and that “There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly.”
Despite the fact that many states are reopening businesses, the pandemic is not over and the future does not look bright — particularly if reopening goes as poorly as is projected. Nevertheless, Trump continues to make unhelpful assertions, like telling the New York Post, “We’ll open it up and I think your fourth quarter is going to be very good.”