President Donald Trump expressed hope on Sunday that the United States was seeing a “leveling-off” of the coronavirus crisis in parts of the United States, even as some of his top health officials were cautious in their predictions about the raging pandemic.
“We see light at the end of the tunnel. Things are happening, “Trump said in Washington during a White House coronavirus task force briefing, which was broadcast live on major television networks.
“You can never be happy when so many people are dying, but we’re going to be very proud of the job we did to keep the death rate down to an absolute minimum.”
The president and other members of the task force sought to assure the public that the country may be close to getting through the worst of the pandemic.
While Trump spoke of a “light at the end of the tunnel,” Vice President Pence identified “glimmers of hope,” and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx said data from Italy was giving the U.S. “hope for what our future could be.”
On Sunday, New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, reported a drop in the number of new infections and deaths.
Trump described the dip as a “good sign”, but warned of more deaths as the pandemic neared its “peak” in the US.
“In the days ahead, America will endure the peak of this pandemic,” Trump said.
He said more medical personnel and supplies, including masks and ventilators, would be sent to the states that are most in need of assistance.
The optimistic outlook at the Sunday evening briefing was in stark contrast to comments made in the morning by Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Adams said on “Fox News Sunday,” comparing it to a modern Pearl Harbour or 9/11 moment.
Dr. Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the U.S. is “struggling” to get the virus under control.
But Trump and Fauci disputed that there’s a disconnect between those viewpoints.
“I don’t think they’re so different,” he said at the briefing. “I think we all know that we have to reach a certain point. And that point is going to be a horrific point in terms of death. But it’s also a point at which things are going to start changing.”
Fauci noted that data showing death tolls and hospitalizations often have a two-week lag time, saying the country will likely see the benefits of its actions today in the weeks to come.
“What you’re hearing about potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t take away form the fact that tomorrow or the next day is going to look really bad,” he said.
The president offered few specific examples of how the country was moving toward a better outlook with the virus. He cited data in New York that showed the state had fewer daily deaths from the virus for the first time in days and noted the state was using fewer hospital beds than expected.
Birx said health experts are looking toward Italy and seeing the country start to turn a corner. She suggested the U.S. could be facing a similar path, suggesting it would mean social distancing could soon show signs of working.
“We’re very hopeful that over the next week, although we’ll see rising number of cases of people who lose their lives to this illness, we’re also hopeful to see a stabilization of cases across these large metro areas where the outbreak began several weeks ago,” she said.
There are more than 337,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of late Sunday, with more than 9,600 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Trump administration has extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April that urge Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and maintain a distance of six feet or more from other individuals.
The president has vacillated at the daily briefings between giving a somber and realistic accounting of grim projections and offering optimism about the economy being able to reopen in a matter of weeks instead of months.
Trump has drawn criticism for downplaying the severity of the virus for months. He said in January it was “under control” and speculated throughout February that it would dissipate in April with warmer weather and that the number of cases in the U.S. would quickly drop to close to zero.
He has defended his rosy outlook as a matter of providing hope to the American public, even when his words don’t match the situation on the ground.
“I want to be positive. I don’t want to be negative,” Trump said last week. “I’m a positive person.”