During a news media availability at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump was presented with a comment he made more than two months ago.
“Today the U.S. hit a grim milestone of 1 million cases of the coronavirus,” CNN’s Jim Acosta said. “Back in late February, you predicted that the number of cases would go down to zero. How did we get from your prediction of zero to 1 million?”
“Well,” Trump replied, “it will go down to zero, ultimately.”
This reply, while flippant, is not demonstrably incorrect. It may well be the case that the novel coronavirus is eventually eradicated entirely, though that’s trickier than it may seem. The flu strain at the center of the 1918 pandemic, for example, still circulates and is included in annual flu shots. Eradicating viruses entirely is hard to do, as doctors who have battled the spread of polio can attest.
But while Trump’s reply demonstrates a remarkable optimism, it’s also completely disingenuous. His comments in February weren’t a vague assertion that the threat posed by the virus would pass. Instead, they were an assertion that the government was capably containing the virus and that the number of cases already presented would quickly winnow away.
Obviously, he was wrong.
That comment on Feb. 26 was not the first time he had claimed that the virus would simply dissipate.
Feb. 10. Said during a meeting with governors. Cases at the end of that day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University: 12.
“Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, 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.”
Note the prediction here: The virus would go away by April.
Feb. 25. Said during a roundtable in New Delhi. Cases: 53.
“[China is] getting it more and more under control. So I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away.”
Feb. 26. Trump made the comment referred to by Acosta during a coronavirus news briefing. Cases: 59 (including passengers repatriated from a cruise ship).
“Again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
A key point here is that Trump predicted the virus would go away within a couple of days. So Trump’s “it will go down to zero, ultimately” clearly misrepresents what he said at the time.
Feb. 27. Said during a photo opportunity at the White House. Cases: 60.
“We have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue. It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows. The fact is, the greatest experts — I’ve spoken to them all. Nobody really knows.”
March 6. Said during a bill signing. Cases: 278. Deaths: 14.
“It’ll go away.”
March 10. Said during a meeting on Capitol Hill. Cases: 959. Deaths: 28.
“We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
March 12. Said during a bilateral meeting. Cases: 1,663. Deaths: 40.
“You know, we need a little a separation until such time as this goes away. It’s going to go away. It’s going to go way. I was watching [former FDA administrator] Scott [Gottlieb] — I was watching Scott this morning, and he was saying within two months. … It’s going away. We want it to go away with very, very few deaths.”
Predicted to go away within two months.
March 30. Said during a coronavirus news briefing. Cases: 161,807. Deaths: 2,978.
“It will go away. You know it — you know it is going away, and it will go away. And we’re going to have a great victory. … I want to have our country be calm and strong, and fight and win, and it will go away.”
March 31. Said during a coronavirus news briefing. Cases: 188,172. Deaths: 3,873.
“It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month. And, if not, hopefully it will be soon after that.”
Predicted to go away by the end of April.
April 3. Said during a coronavirus news briefing. Cases: 275,586. Deaths: 7,087.
“It is going to go away. It is going away. … I said it’s going away, and it is going away.”
April 7. Said during a coronavirus news briefing. Cases: 396,223. Deaths: 12,722.
“It did go — it will go away. … The cases really didn’t build up for a while. But you have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else.”
April 28. Later in Tuesday’s news conference, Trump again claimed that the virus would simply go away, just as he had two months and two days earlier, when there were those 15 cases that would be gone in a few days.
“I think what happens is it’s going to go away. This is going to go away.”
The number of cases and deaths at the end of the day on April 28 is not yet known. As of writing, Johns Hopkins counts nearly 58,000 dead and 1,004,908 confirmed cases — nearly 67,000 cases for every case Trump discussed on Feb. 26.