Trump just acknowledged downplaying the coronavirus threat: ‘I knew it could be horrible’

President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.

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President Donald Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.
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Tom Brenner/Reuters
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday acknowledged downplaying the coronavirus threat early on.
  • “I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” Trump said. “I don’t want to be a negative person.”
  • Trump said he wanted to be a “cheerleader” for the US and give people “hope.”
  • But public-health experts have slammed Trump’s handling of what is now a pandemic, saying his efforts to diminish the potential impact robbed the US of vital time needed to prepare.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he knew from the start that thousands of Americans could die from the novel coronavirus but downplayed the threat because he wanted to stay positive and be a “cheerleader” for the country.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Trump was asked whether he lulled Americans into a false sense of security by telling the public that the virus would go away quickly, even as it was clear the number of cases and death toll were on the rise.

“I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” Trump said. “I don’t want to be a negative person.”

He continued: “This is really easy to be negative about. But I want to give people hope too. You know I’m a cheerleader for the country – we are going through the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen.”

This came as the top medical experts on the White House coronavirus task force warned that the coronavirus could easily kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans – even with mitigation efforts like social distancing in place.

Public-health experts have previously excoriated Trump’s early efforts to downplay the threat of the virus, arguing that Trump robbed the US of valuable time needed to prepare for what is now a pandemic – potentially costing thousands of lives.

Trump spent “two months of completely ignoring every bit of scientific advice,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Insider in mid-March. “We’ve wasted two months. And this is not a disease where you’re allowed to waste two months.”

Jha, a general internist who received his doctorate in medicine from Harvard Medical School, slammed Trump for telling Americans everything was “under control” when, he said, it “was very clear to anybody paying attention that it was not under control.”

“I don’t use these words lightly, and it’s incredibly painful for me to say it,” he said, adding: “The cost of all of this is that tens of thousands of Americans are going to die unnecessarily.” He went on to say: “It was wholly preventable, and not just preventable in hindsight – it was preventable in foresight. Everybody said this is how it was going to play out if they didn’t act.”

The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, originated in Wuhan, China, first appearing late last year. But it was not identified as a new virus until early January.

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the US was on January 21.

From the start, Trump publicly downplayed the threat, even as intelligence agencies were said to have warned him of an impending pandemic.

“We have it totally under control,” the president said on January 22. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Roughly a month later, at a press conference on February 26, Trump said the number of coronavirus cases in the US would be “close to zero” in a “couple of days.” At about the same time, top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the number of cases in the US was expected to rise, and they urged Americans to prepare for severe disruptions to daily life.

The US now has the highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the world – more than 180,000 – and had seen more than 3,600 people die from it as of Tuesday.

Though Trump now says he wanted to give people “hope” by misleading them about the threat of the novel coronavirus, much of it also appears to have been linked to the president’s concerns over the economy in relation to his reelection prospects.

“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,” Trump wrote in a tweet last Wednesday. “The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”

Trump is presently taking a more serious tone on coronavirus. The president on Tuesday said the next two weeks for the US would be “very painful,” calling on “every American to be prepared for the days that lie ahead.”

“It’s a matter of life and death, frankly,” Trump said of the guidelines in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Exactly a week ago, however, Trump was calling for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted and for the US economy to be “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” around mid-April. He has since backed off that idea.