In his first official press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic since April, President Trump on Tuesday admitted that the public health crisis is likely to worsen as cases surge across the country and asked all Americans to wear masks in public.
While Trump hailed his administration’s response to the pandemic and the work toward developing a vaccine, he bluntly disclosed what many Americans already know: that the crisis is likely to spread more before it can be contained.
“It will get worse before it gets better,” Trump said of the pandemic that has infected close to 4 million Americans. “That’s something I don’t like saying but it is.”
Trump’s comments come after weeks where he either downplayed the virus’ continued spread or focused on other issues – from unrest over racial injustice in American cities to the removal of Confederate statues – despite cases of COVID-19 surging, particularly, in parts of the south and southwest.
Noting the concerns among many of his supporters that facial coverings impinge on their personal freedoms, Trump pleaded with Americans to wear masks out in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re asking everybody when you’re not able to socially distance to wear a mask,” Trump said.
While his comment falls short of a national mandate, it is the strongest endorsement yet from the president who until recently had questioned the efficacy of masks.
He added: “Whether you like masks or not, wear a mask.”
The president’s comments come just days after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield urged Americans to wear masks in public – saying that the pandemic could be under control within four to six weeks if every American wore a mask.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
Trump on Monday tweeted a photo of himself in a face mask, calling it an act of patriotism, after months of resistance to being publicly seen in the coverings.
“Think about patriotism,” Trump reiterated Monday.
Trump, however, did repeat his claim that the virus would “disappear.” He has made the claim numerous times — most recently during a tense interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I’ll be right eventually,” he said in that interview. “It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right.”
Trump also touted the strides researchers in the country are making toward a possible vaccine – noting that the process is moving along quickly and promising results soon.
“My administration will stop at nothing to save lives, shield the vulnerable,” he said. “The vaccines are coming and they’re coming a lot faster than anyone thought possible.”
The president’s return to the briefing room to address the coronavirus pandemic comes as the next stage of the federal government’s response to the pandemic was being crafted on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and White House officials were opening negotiations on a trillion-dollar-or-more “phase four” rescue package.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting chief of staff Mark Meadows were to meet privately Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the new aid package, a day after Trump convened GOP leaders at the White House.
Democrats are pressing for the next bill to include funding for election protections, while some Republicans have broken with the White House in seeking additional federal funding for testing and contact-tracing. Meanwhile, Trump has found few allies in his push for a payroll tax cut in the legislation.
Schumer in a news conference, encouraged White House aides to “keep Trump away from the podium.” “He is a threat to public health,” he told reporters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.