President Donald Trump conceded Tuesday that the worst of COVID-19 is yet to come as he held his first White House coronavirus briefing since April.
‘It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better – something I don’t like saying about things,’ Trump said of the continuing global health crisis. ‘But that’s the way it is, that’s the way – that’s what we have.’
‘You look at the world, it’s all over the world,’ he said, deflecting from the severity of the pandemic in the U.S., adding viruses ‘tend’ to worsen before improving.
As of Tuesday there are more than 3.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., which is far more than the infection rate that any other country has reported, and the death toll is nearing 141,000.
The country with the next-highest numbers of cases is Brazil with more than 2.1 million.
The president urged that in lieu of a current cure, vaccine or therapy for the virus, Americans wear masks and avoid bars.
‘We’re instead asking Americans to use mask, socially distance and employ vigorous hygiene – wash your hands every chance you get – while sheltering high-risk populations,’ Trump said from the podium.
‘We are implying young Americans to avoid packed bars and other crowded, indoor gatherings,’ he encouraged. ‘Be safe, and be smart.’
The direction comes a day after the president tweeted it is ‘patriotic’ to wear a mask, along with a black and white photograph of him donning the face covering during his recent trip to visit wounded troops at Walter Reed.
Trump also suggested during the briefing that people should not judge him regarding the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic when they cast their ballots in November – as the president’s approval rating, especially related to his handling of the crisis, have been slipping.
‘Do you want the American people to judge you on the ballot in November by how you handled this pandemic so far?’ a masked reporter asked Trump during the conference.
‘This, among other things – I think the American people will judge us on this,’ Trump started before launching into a list of his accomplishments.
‘They’ll judge us on the economy that I created,’ he said. ‘Next year’s going to be a record year. And I think they’re going to judge me on that. I think they’re going to judge me on the tax cutting and the regulation cutting… on rebuilding the military. On how we’ve handled the VA.’
‘They’ll judge me on all of the things that we’ve done,’ the president said, lamenting that if he weren’t for the virus, he would still be making strides.
Trump also spoke at length about his own personal thought on wearing a mask, when quizzed about his decision not to sport one at a $5 million fundraiser at his Washington, D.C. hotel – just hours after saying it was ‘patriotic’ to wear one.
‘I have the mask right here,’ Trump said, whipping out a mask bearing the presidential seal to show reporters.
‘I do actually do it when I need. I carry the mask,’ Trump said. ‘I will use it, gladly. No problem with it,’ Trump said.
He defended his decision not to wear a mask at the fundraiser. ‘I don’t know, the hotel – I was pretty far away from people,’ Trump said, noting that he and attendees had been tested for the deadly virus that has infected more than 3.5 million Americans.
‘If you’re close together I would put on the mask,’ he urged Americans.
‘If you can use the mask, when you can use the mask if you’re close to each other if you’re in a group, I would put it on.’
Trump, who held a rally last month in Tulsa where more than 6,000 joined in an indoor arena, even said the standard six-foot guidance on social distancing may not be strong enough.
‘Six feet to me is common sense,’ Trump said. ‘I’d like to say make it a little bit further.’
‘I’m getting used to the mask,’ said Trump, who has mocked rival Joe Biden for the way a mask looked on him.
He was speaking without a mask, while answering a question from masked NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker.
Trump also expressed consideration for the army of agents who protect him – some of whom tested positive for the virus after his Tulsa campaign rally.
‘When I’m in a group – if I’m in an elevator and there are other people with me. Including like security people, it’s not their fault. They have to be in the elevator. I want to protect them also. I put on a mask,’ Trump said.
‘Think about patriotism. Maybe it is. It helps,’ Trump said, at a briefing where the persistently optimistic president said things would get ‘worse before they get better.’
But that didn’t stop Trump from noting that experts during the start of the pandemic, when there was a run on masks throughout the country, urged against it. ‘If they’ve changed their minds that’s good enough for me,’ Trump said.
Trump announced during a meeting with GOP lawmakers and administration officials on Monday that he was bringing back the primetime daily briefings to directly update American’s on the White House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Noticeably absent from the comeback press conference was the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a top member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force since its inception in March.
Fauci said he had not been asked to make an appearance at the president’s first rebooted briefing.
‘I was not invited up to this point,’ Fauci told CNN Tuesday afternoon, just an hour before the president was set to take the podium and speak about the coronavirus amidst a prevailing surge in new infections.
‘I’m assuming that I’m not going to be there because it’s going to be in just a short while and I’m still here at the NIH,’ said Fauci, the soft-spoken epidemiologist who has counseled presidents on disease outbreaks going back decades.
Trump revealed at the briefing that he is working with lawmakers to get a Phase Four stimulus package passed in Congress and said his administration is working on ‘developing a strategy’ to address the virus.
‘Some areas of our country are doing very well, others are doing less well,’ Trump said, acknowledging that the areas located in the so-called ‘sun belt,’ like Florida, Texas and Southern California, are being hit harder by the resurgence of the virus.
Fauci told CNN on Tuesday he made a visit to the White House Monday, but he has not spoken to Trump since last week – on a day of drama about which medical experts, if any, Trump would select to accompany him to the podium.
He said he had a ‘good long conversation’ with Trump toward the end of last week.
Fauci fielded a series of questions during the interview about the pandemic, vaccines, and testing, which he agreed needed improvement.
Reports from a number of states show people waiting for more than a week to get results from COVID-19 tests – which can throw off efforts to contact-trace and avoid spread of infection. The U.S. has about a quarter of the world’s cases after a long spike.
‘We still have to make it better,’ Fauci acknowledged.
‘Some places are getting it quite right. But others, the time-frame from when you get a test the time you get the result back is sometimes measured in a few days. If that’s the case, it kind of negates the purpose of the contact tracing,’ he said. The tracing is meant to identify others who may have caught or be spreading the disease.
Amid the public confusion, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus taskforce, said he didn’t know if Fauci would be included in President Donald Trump’s first rebooted briefing. Pence, traveling in South Carolina Tuesday, was pressed twice by DailyMail.com on whether Fauci would attend.
‘I’d leave that to the White House today,’ Pence eventually answered, after pointing out how task force members, like Dr. Deborah Birx, were being deployed around the nation and had recently briefed the press, just not at the White House.
Pence’s comments came after Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a key task force member, said Tuesday morning that he didn’t know who would attend – and whether Fauci would be included.
‘They’re still figuring out that out. I know that as they resume we will be there in our different roles,’ Adams told CBS ‘This Morning.’
‘As folks know I’m a strong advocate for making sure we are promoting the awareness of the impact on communities of color , particularly African Americans and particularly Hispanics,’ he continued, without providing more information.
He was asked whether he, Fauci, or task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx would attend the briefing.
Fauci has taken to the airwaves to defend himself, even if he doesn’t make it to Tuesday’s briefing.
On Monday evening, he responded to Trump’s claim that he was ‘a little bit of an alarmist.’
‘I consider myself a realist, as opposed to an alarmist,’ he said in an Instagram live interview with Maria Shriver.
‘I’m a realist but I’m also an optimist,’ he said.
He also agreed that Trump’s characterization of him was unfair, though he stated it in his typically self-effacing manner.
‘I believe so, but then again, others have different opinions,’ Fauci said.
President Trump touted the return of the briefings Monday at the White House – after seeing his approval rating slide amid mounting U.S. infections and deaths due to the coronavirus.
‘We’re going to give you a lot of briefings in the next week and over the next few weeks as to – I think it’s very important to do it,’ Trump said while speaking to the press following his Oval Office meeting with Republican leadership.
Trump stopped showing up to the near-daily press conferences after after one update in the White House briefing room went off the rails after Trump suggested injecting bleach or light into the body as a potential treatment for coronavirus.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appeared to be in the dark about whether he would attend the briefing.
‘I would imagine that I would be at least in on some of them, but we have not heard anything definitive yet,’ he told NPR. ‘I mean, if they want me there, I’ll be more than happy to be there,’ he said.
Complicating the drama, Vice President Mike Pence, a usual presence, and the figure who has led briefings in Trump’s absence, is traveling to South Carolina Tuesday. He was accompanied by Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Dr. Seema Mehta.
Fauci does have another gig lined up. The Washington Nationals have invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at their home opener Thursday – a role that historically U.S. presidents have often fulfilled.
He also is set to be interviewed on CNN Tuesday afternoon right before the briefing.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News the briefings would be ‘short’ and ‘very newsy.’ She said the president might sometimes bring other officials with him and might stray to issues besides the coronavirus.
CNN reported that no coronavirus task force members were expected to join the president.