Trump, officials describe ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as cases mount
President Trump on Sunday struck a more optimistic tone about the country’s progress in its effort to combat the coronavirus even as some of his top health officials predicted the coming week would be akin to Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks in terms of its impact.
“We see light at the end of the tunnel. Things are happening,” Trump said during a White House coronavirus task force briefing. “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. And hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll be very proud of the job we all did. 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 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.”
The optimistic outlook was in stark contrast to comments made Sunday 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 Harbor or 9/11 moment.
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.”
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