Even as number of cases in U.S. surges, Trump downplays coronavirus threat again

WASHINGTON — President Trump continued to downplay the exponential spread of the coronavirus in the United States on Monday, comparing the rising death toll to the number of Americans killed in car crashes and by the seasonal flu.

“We have a very active flu season, more active than most,” Trump said at a Monday briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, reverting to how he had described the coronavirus throughout February and early March, before he started to take the outbreak more seriously. “It’s looking like it’s heading to 50,000 or more deaths,” he went on, speaking of flu-related mortality.

He then compared the coronavirus outbreak to another killer of thousands of Americans. “You look at automobile accidents,” Trump said, “which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars.” About 39,000 people die in vehicular accidents in the United States per year.

The point seemed to be that, as far as mortality numbers go, the coronavirus was not an especially fearsome killer. By that logic, effectively shuttering whole swaths of the economy, Trump said, made little sense.

“We have to do things to get our country open,” Trump said, calling the last several weeks “an incredible period of learning.” He did not say what was learned, or by whom.

The growth trajectory of the disease over the last several weeks has continued to cut a devastating swath across the nation. There are now more than 43,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and there have been more than 530 deaths.

President Trump speaking about the coronavirus on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)
President Trump speaking about the coronavirus on Monday. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Yet Trump’s views on the virus seem to have changed. On Monday he appeared swayed by the argument that the economic cost of attempting to halt the coronavirus through lockdown measures is greater than the human cost of letting it cycle through the population. 

A laissez-faire approach to the coronavirus could kill as many as 2.2 million Americans, according to estimates. That number is believed to have spooked Trump and other White House officials into taking the outbreak more seriously

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