President Donald Trump admitted to publicly downplaying the real threat of Covid-19 for weeks, despite cities and states closing and more Americans falling ill, according to excerpts and audio recordings from reporter Bob Woodward’s upcoming book Anger.
“I always wanted to downplay it,” said Trump on March 19. “I still like to downplay it because I don’t want to panic.”
In several interviews with Woodward, Trump said he was aware of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus as early as January and downplayed the true risk of the disease well into March when the U.S. epidemic broke out. (CNN released audio clips from the interviews.)
Later that month, Trump publicly claimed the virus would go “like a miracle”. He also said, “You have 15 people [with the coronavirus]and the 15 will drop to near zero in a few days. “In early March, he also publicly compared the coronavirus to the flu, arguing that Covid-19 did not kill as many people in the US as the common flu.
On March 19, Trump admitted to Woodward that Covid-19 could affect both young and old. In that conversation, he said he still wanted to downplay the threat.
At that point it was perfectly clear that the virus posed a real threat in the US. Cases and deaths rose in the New York City area in particular. San Francisco was already closed. Trump held press conferences about the virus daily. The same day he told Woodward that he had downplayed the crisis, he bragged that his government was in control.
Later in March, Trump publicly insisted that the US go back to normal and open again by Easter Sunday in April. “They will have churches all over our country full,” Trump said on March 24th. “I think it’s going to be a good time.”
Trump told Woodward that he intended to avoid panic. However, experts say Trump’s response to the virus – especially the magical thinking that influenced his public comments – fueled the outbreak in America. This fostered a sense of complacency among the general public and other senior positions, and built opposition to necessary public health measures against Covid-19 such as social distancing, testing and masking.
As soon as the states began to lock up, Trump urged them to reopen too soon and too quickly – in order to “get rid” of economic disasters. After his administration suggested that people wear masks in public, Trump claimed it was a personal choice, refused to wear a mask himself, and said people wore masks to annoy him. He’s also hyped unproven and even dangerous treatments, and at one point thought about how people inject bleach to treat Covid-19. And he was slow to expand U.S. testing capacity, arguing that more testing made the U.S. look bad by uncovering more cases. Instead, he passed the issue on to local, state, and private actors who weren’t equipped for the full job.
“It starts in many ways, and you could argue that it ends in many ways with the Trump administration,” Ashish Jha, the faculty director at Harvard Global Health Institute, previously told me. “If George W. Bush had been president, if John McCain had been president, if Mitt Romney had been president, it would have been very different.”
This continued, based on Woodward’s coverage and the president’s audio recording, long after the Covid-19 threat was clear to even Trump.
The result: The USA is doing about seven times worse than the middle industrialized country and is below the bottom 20 percent of Covid-19 deaths among rich nations. If America had the same death rate as Canada, there would probably be 100,000 more Americans alive today.
Trump has not admitted responsibility for any of this, however. In his last interview with Woodward in July, Trump said, “The virus has nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault. … China let out the damn virus. “
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