But while some have criticized such comments and used them to question the advice of officials such as top federal infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci, most of the worst punditry on this issue came later on, after the gravity of the situation became clear to those officials. It came from those who sought to question the severity of the virus in the name of keeping the economy open or, at a more basic level, appealing to people who just didn’t want to believe it was a major threat.
Today, more than half a million U.S. deaths later and with coronavirus cases spiking alarmingly in India despite the advent of vaccines, it’s worth a look back at those who most forcefully suggested this wasn’t truly so bad — and not just suggested as much, but actually predicted it.
In recent days, critics have bristled at “Saturday Night Live” tapping Elon Musk as its host for next weekend’s show. The decision comes despite Musk’s comments, among others, suggesting the virus would be gone by the end of April 2020. Similarly, social media accounts on Monday repeatedly spotlighted a year-old tweet from Trump supporter and conservative provocateur Candace Owens pointing to India as proof that the virus wasn’t that bad — almost exactly a year before India emerged as a massive global hot spot whose outbreak is quickly becoming the world’s problem.
Indeed, many of the worst predictions and prognostications came, as both of those did, roughly one year ago. Below are a few of the big ones.
Trump’s various claims
Given the volume of former president Donald Trump’s commentary downplaying the virus, it’s difficult to choose his worst prognostications. But here are a few.
April 2020: “In my opinion, from everything I’ve seen, it can never be like anything that we’ve witnessed right now. … And if it does come back, it’s not going to come back — and I’ve spoken to 10 different people — it’s not going to be like it was.”
The virus went on to spike to 10 times as many recorded cases and more than 150 percent as many deaths as at that point.
March 2020: “And so if we could hold that [death toll] down, as we’re saying, to 100,000 — it’s a horrible number, maybe even less — but to 100,000. So we have between 100 and 200,000, and we altogether have done a very good job.”
The death toll at the end of Trump presidency was around 400,000, two times the upper bound of Trump’s “very good job” standard. Trump also previously suggested even fewer deaths than the lower-bound number of 100,000.
February 2020: “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.”
Certain people might have thought that! It wasn’t the consensus by any stretch. And it was far from actually happening.
Pence: ‘Second wave’ fears overblown
Former vice president Mike Pence, both as head of the coronavirus task force and generally speaking when it came to the Trump administration, stayed out of the limelight. But in June 2020, he stepped forward to write a Wall Street Journal op-ed going after warnings of a “second wave” of the virus.
“In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown,” Pence said. He added later: “The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different.”
As The Post’s Philip Bump reported, there wasn’t yet a second wave, but that’s because the first wave hadn’t really receded. And by a month later, Pence’s op-ed looked particularly ill-timed. Cases effectively tripled, from just more than 20,000 to more than 60,000. And it wasn’t just more testing; test-positivity rates also rose significantly, and deaths began to climb in July.
By the end of the year, cases ballooned and deaths began far exceeding both the low point at which Pence wrote the piece and even the high point he had cited as the worst of the pandemic.
McEnany: Trump won’t allow the coronavirus to come here
Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also made a bold claim in February 2020, shortly before joining the White House.
“This president will always put Americans first. He will always protect American citizens,” McEnany said on Fox Business Network. “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here. And isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”
It would have been refreshing if it were true. If we’re being charitable, she was referring to the travel ban from China (which was kinda, sorta her explanation). But Trump most definitely did allow the virus to come here, however much that might have been avoidable.
Kushner: ‘Back to normal’ by June
In an April 2020 interview, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser predicted business-as-usual by the summer … of 2020.
“I think you’ll see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal,” Jared Kushner said, “and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.”
The latter was at least a hope. The former was wrong and prohibited by circumstances that plenty saw rather clearly even at that juncture.
Just like Trump, Kushner was privy to plenty of data on where this was headed. But false hope apparently springs eternal when you want to wish something away and move on.
Candace Owens: Look at India
In April 2020, Owens offered a case-in-point when it came to how much the virus was oversold.
“Two weeks ago I told you all that India was the country to watch as millions of their workers were stranded along the railroad — no means of social distancing,” Owens said. “India has just 169 deaths. Reported its first case in January.”
She added sarcastically of what were then comparisons to influenza: “BUT IT’S 10 TIMES MORE DEADLY THAN THE FLU, BRO!”
Fast forward a year, and India is experiencing what many deem to be one of the worst outbreaks in the history of the coronavirus — more than 400,000 new cases in a single day this weekend. Making matters worse, the country doesn’t have the health infrastructure to deal with it, and the situation could threaten the world by giving rise to more vaccine-resistant variants.
India’s case count on a per-capita basis isn’t yet outpacing where other smaller countries, including the United States, have been — and where many of them are now that vaccines are in play — but it reinforces the true danger of the virus when left largely unchecked.
And it obliterates comparisons to the flu, in case there was any doubt. In the United States, as it happens, we’ve seen more than 10 times the coronavirus deaths of the average flu season -- and this despite much more significant mitigation efforts.
Alex Berenson: Look at Israel
If the India comparison was a bad idea, wait till you hear about the Israel one. Perhaps nobody has been as out-front in questioning not just mitigation efforts, but also the vaccines, as former New York Times reporter and now-Fox pundit Alex Berenson.
Early this year, he noted that Israel saw its case rates continue to climb even very early in its vaccination efforts — despite the campaign beginning amid a clear surge and the immunizations taking time to register. He also pointed to isolated incidents of people falling ill after getting the vaccine — though not necessarily because of it.
“The Israeli data is increasingly clear - the clinical trials significantly overstated [the vaccines’] efficacy," Berenson claimed in February.
Three months later, with Israel having set the worldwide standard for its vaccination program, the country is a massive success story. Last week, it recorded a day without even one coronavirus death. This weekend, it recorded a day with just 13 confirmed new cases — and a test-positivity rate of just 0.1 percent — in a country of 9 million.
Musk: ‘Close to zero’ cases by a year ago
Plenty of people sought to appear smarter than thou when the virus began taking off in the United States, and very prominent among them was Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX.
In late March 2020, he even ventured that the virus would effectively be gone by May 2020.
Asked whether he believed China’s claims that it had no new cases in mid-March 2020 (apparently in light of its lack of disclosure about the virus), Musk indicated he did and added: “Based on current trends, probably close to zero new cases in US too by end of April.”
At the time, we were averaging about 2,000 new cases per day. It quickly spiked to 30,000 cases per day, and the seven-day average has never dropped below 20,000 since then. It reached a high of nearly 250,000 in January.
Oh, and there’s plenty to suggest the Chinese government has severely undersold the true number of infections there.