WASHINGTON D.C. — President Donald Trump warned Saturday that the county could be headed into its “toughest” weeks yet as the number of coronavirus deaths mount.
“There will be a lot of death, unfortunately,” Trump said in a somber start to his daily briefing on the pandemic. “There will be death.”
At the same time he expressed growing impatience with social distancing guidelines. He said he’s eager to get the country reopened and its stalled economy back on track.
Joining Trump were Vice President Mike Pence, virus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s foremost infection disease expert. Each stood far apart from one another on the small stage.
The president initially had suggested the country could reopen by Easter but pulled back seeing projections of a staggering death toll even if restrictive measures remain in place. But just days after extending tough national guidelines through the end of April, staring down historic levels of unemployment and economic standstill, he was talking about reopening as soon as possible, and speaking Saturday with leaders of professional sports leagues about filling arenas again.
“This country was not designed to be closed,” he said. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem.”
The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,100; more than 3,500 of those deaths are in the state of New York.
Hart-hit states were seeing cases rise. Trump suggested that some states were asking for more medical supplies than they really needed. He said the goal was to stay several days ahead of critical medical needs in each state.
“The fears of the shortages have led to inflated requests,” he said.
Louisiana officials have said New Orleans is on track to run out of ventilators by next week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., whose state is at the epicenter of the national pandemic with over 113,700 confirmed cases as of Saturday morning, has pleaded for ventilators for days. New York is poised to get more than 1,100 ventilators from China and Oregon.
Health officials did offer some hope that social distance measures were working. Fauci said he saw the efforts in action as he went out for a walk in Washington, D.C., and noticed people waiting six feet apart for restaurant take out.
“As sobering and a difficult as this is, what we are doing is making a difference,” Fauci said.
But even as Fauci urged Americans to be patient and let mitigation efforts work, Trump said: “Mitigation does work. But again, we’re not going to destroy our country.”
Sports still in limbo
Much of the country is under orders to stay home, including professional sports leagues that were among the first to clamp down in the pandemic. Trump spoke by phone with top leaders including Roger Goodell of the National Football League and the NBA’s Adam Silver, telling them he hoped to get people back in seats as soon as possible.
“I want fans back in the arenas,” he said. “Whenever we’re ready, as soon as we can.”
The virus has decimated the sports world with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspending their seasons indefinitely and Major League Baseball postponing the start of its season. The NCAA basketball tournament was also canceled; so were college spring sports.
A person with knowledge of the call said some of the commissioners weren’t quite as optimistic as Trump because of the concerns raised by public health officials but appreciated the president’s desire to give people hope and fans a reason to be optimistic. The person requested anonymity to discuss the private call.
California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has three NFL teams in his state, was asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time in September. “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” he said.