Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that the media was overselling the threat and deliberately spooking the stock market, which has taken a tumble this week over coronavirus fears.
“Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible,” Trump said. “Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!”
“CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus,” he tweeted Tuesday night.
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he said Monday, again citing the stock market.
Even as Trump was offering those assurances, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered a significantly bleaker assessment, calling an outbreak in the United States “inevitable.”
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday morning. “It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) indicated the information senators were being given did not line up with the rosier assurances that the virus has been contained.
“I can’t comment on what the White House has been saying on this because the people who work for the White House are not saying that,” Blunt said.
Trump held a news conference in India on Tuesday morning, in which he was asked about his very different reaction to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. At the time, he used apocalyptic language and implored U.S. officials not to allow Americans who were infected back into the United States; now, his government is repatriating Americans who were infected with coronavirus on cruise ships.
Trump argued that Ebola carried a much higher mortality rate, which it did (coronavirus is at around 2 percent currently), and thus warranted a stricter response. But he also claimed Ebola’s rate was a “virtual 100 percent” chance of death. In fact, the World Health Organization put the figures at between 28 and 67 percent, depending on the country.
He also claimed that in 2014, “nobody had ever even heard of Ebola.” In fact, it had been around for decades, with outbreaks as early as the 1970s, though the 2014 outbreak was the largest to date.
In addition to Trump trying to decouple the stock market — and perhaps his 2020 reelection prospects — from coronavirus this week, he also claimed on Feb. 14 that “61 percent of the voters approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.” Except that is not accurate either. The NPR/PBS/Marist College poll asked not about Trump’s handling of the situation, but about whether U.S. government officials were doing enough to stop the spread of the disease.
Another regular feature of Trump’s coronavirus commentary has been praise for China, where the disease first took hold in Wuhan. Trump has repeatedly claimed not only that China and President Xi Jinping have handled the situation well, but it is successfully collaborating with the United States.
“We’re working together,” Trump said Feb. 7. “But World Health [Organization] is working with them. CDC is working with them."
“Working closely with China and others on Coronavirus outbreak,” Trump tweeted Jan. 30. He added in a speech the same day, “We’re working with them very, very closely.”
“The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump said Jan. 24.
During this period, China was declining to allow the CDC into their country. It eventually allowed the WHO in, but to this day U.S. officials are bemoaning the lack of a team effort.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Feb. 14 that he and the CDC “made the offer on January 6 — 36 days ago, 60,000 cases and 1,300 deaths ago” to go into China. Azar also expressed concern that WHO scientists would simply be “confined to a conference room and handed sanitized data.”
Azar is not the only U.S. official to suggest China is not being as transparent as Trump has insisted. Yet a week before that Azar CNN interview, Trump had responded to questions about whether China was covering up the full extent of coronavirus — as it did with SARS — by flatly saying, “No.”
Last is perhaps Trump’s most wishful theory: that the disease will disappear once the weather warms, like the seasonal flu and other strains of coronavirus. He said on Feb. 10 “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.” On Feb. 14, he returned to the idea, saying, “There’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus.”
Except this particular strain of coronavirus is completely new, and there is no data on how it might respond to temperature. Messonnier herself warned Feb. 12 against relying upon Trump’s theory of choice, saying: “I would caution over-interpreting” it. “I’m happy to hope that it goes down as the weather warms up, but I think it’s premature to assume that,” she said. “And we’re certainly not using that to sit back and expect it to go away.”
In any such situation, it is generally accepted that you assume the worst and prepare accordingly. Trump, by contrast, keeps betting heavily that the worst will never come to pass and that his “all is well” approach will not come back to bite him.
But it is also evident his public commentary does not match his own administration’s approach and the known facts about these issues. We will see what tone he takes Wednesday night.