Trump says coronavirus 'may not come back at all'

President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE on Wednesday expressed confidence that the coronavirus will not hit the U.S. with the same severity if it returns in the fall, suggesting that the disease that has killed tens of thousands of Americans "may not come back at all."

The comments came as part of a broader diatribe against a Washington Post headline that he felt unfairly characterized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) warning that a second wave of the coronavirus could coincide with flu season. 

But Trump's assertion that the virus would either be weakened or nonexistent in the fall breaks with medical experts who have cautioned that it will be present in American life for months or years to come.

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"It may not come back at all," Trump told reporters during a White House briefing. "He's talking about a worst-case scenario where you have a big flu and you have some [coronavirus]. And if it does come back, it's not going to come back ... like it was. Also, we have much better containment now."

"Now, if we have pockets, a little pocket here or there, we're going to have it put out," he continued. "It goes out, and it’s going to go out fast. We’re going to be watching for it. But it’s also possible it doesn’t come back at all."

Pressed on how he can be sure that the virus won't return in the fall, Trump denied that he had just said such a thing. 

"I didn’t say it’s not. I said if it does, it’s not going to come back at anything near what we went through," Trump said.

"But if we have embers of corona coupled with the flu, that’s not going to be pleasant," he added. "But it’s not going to be what we’ve gone through in any way shape or form."

The president at one point inquired with Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House's coronavirus response, about whether the disease could disappear entirely by the fall.

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"We’re not only preparing for today and tomorrow, but we are preparing for six months from now, three months from now and making sure that all of these pieces are in place," Birx said.

"Wouldn’t you say there’s a good chance that COVID will not come back?" Trump asked.

"We don’t know. ... The great thing is we’ll be able to find it earlier," Birx replied.

Trump's downplaying of the possibility of a fall resurgence is likely to be used against him by Democrats if there are more cases. 

He repeatedly downplayed the virus in January and February, saying it was "under control" and that cases in the U.S. would soon drop to "close to zero." Those remarks have been featured in campaign ads for the president's likely Democratic opponent in November, Joe BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE

The virus has infected more than 840,000 people in the U.S., by far the most of any country in the world. It has killed more than 46,000 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Elected officials and public health experts, including those who appear alongside Trump at the White House briefings, have warned that Americans may not be able to return to life without some form of social distancing until there is a vaccine. 

But they have assured the public that the country will be better prepared to combat a potential second wave with the development of therapeutics and the influx of ventilators and other equipment.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs Fauci: 'Worst time' for a government shutdown is in middle of pandemic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said it's likely the virus will be seasonal, and he reiterated that belief on Wednesday.

"We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature," he said at the briefing. "What happens with that will depend on how we’re able to contain it when it occurs."