President Donald Trump finally crashed face-first into reality on Monday at a White House press briefing about the coronavirus. While every other meeting with the press on the topic has been littered with the president’s ad-libs and comments downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic — often surrounded by more sober warnings and assessments from experts — Trump finally seemed to grasp that the outbreak is guaranteed to have a serious impact on the daily lives of Americans.
Emblematic of this shift was a set of guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see below). These include the most stringent warnings for people who are sick, in contact with people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, or are particularly vulnerable to the infection. But it also directed everyone to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, avoid restaurants and bars, avoid any unnecessary trips out, and work from home if possible. It also advises that Americans listen to state and local officials for any further guidance.
This is the strongest sign yet from the administration that everyone should be taking significant “social distancing” steps that experts have been advocating to stem the spread of the pandemic. And it was a sharp change in the president’s stance on the outbreak, which he has consistently sought to downplay even as he touts his administration’s response.
But while it was good Trump had adjusted his rhetoric to better match reality, it’s clear the administration is still failing to rally the resources necessary to fight the problem as best as possible.
“Someone finally talked some sense into the President two months into this,” said MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “That’s good. But we need huge amounts of coordinated federal *action* *assistance* and *mobilization* along with the shift in rhetoric.”
Here are four ways Trump changed his tune at the press conference.
1. “This is bad in the sense that it’s so contagious,” Trump said. “It’s just so contagious. It is sort of record-setting type contagion.”
Trump has repeatedly failed to understand or communicate how serious the coronavirus outbreak was. For a while, he repeatedly compared it to the flu, often suggesting that the seasonal infection was a bigger problem.
“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” he said in one tweet. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
In fact, administration officials have warned that the coronavirus is much more deadly than the flu and has the potential to overwhelm health care capacity.
2. “The media is being very fair.”
Asked about the press’s treatment of the outbreak, Trump surprisingly called the coverage “very fair,” stunning many observers.
Just a week ago, for instance, Trump tweeted: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.'”
3. “They think August, it could be July, could be longer than that.”
Trump acknowledged on Monday that experts believe that — though much is still uncertain — the pandemic could carry on having effects on the American population throughout the summer.
In February, Trump was much more hopeful about the timeline.
“The virus that we’re talking about having to do, a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat, as the heat comes in, typically that will go away in April,” he told a campaign rally in New Hampshire. There was no basis for this claim then, as experts expressed no confidence the change of seasons would trigger a decline in the spread.
4. “It may be.”
“Is the country headed into a recession?” a reporter asked.
Trump responded frankly: “It may be.” But he said he is focused on fighting the virus, rather than a potential recession. He also indicated that the economy will likely bounce back quickly from any pandemic-induced recession, though this is far from certain.
But acknowledging the dangers to the economy is a significant step forward for the president, though it’s one that has arrived too late. After the Dow Jones indicator plunged more than 1,000 points in February, Trump absurdly and defiantly tweeted: “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
Apparently, he doesn’t think he can deny reality any longer. Which is good, because the Dow fell nearly 3,000 points on Monday, a drop of 12.9 percent.
Here’s the guidance posted by the CDC: