Donald Trump said the Covid-19 pandemic in the US will “get worse before it gets better”, in a marked change of tone during his first White House coronavirus press briefing in nearly three months.
“Some areas of our country are doing very well, others are doing less well,” the president told reporters on Tuesday, hours after health authorities in California confirmed the state has registered more than 400,000 coronavirus cases.
His comments stand in contrast to his rosier predictions in recent weeks that the virus would “just disappear”, and come after caseloads have spiked in California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and other states in the US sunbelt in the past few weeks.
When asked whether he would be responsible if the pandemic gets worse and people continue dying, Mr Trump said: “The virus will disappear. It will disappear.”
The jump in cases has strained healthcare systems and is raising fresh concerns about whether US authorities can contain the spread of the deadly virus. More than 140,000 Americans have died since coronavirus began spreading across the US earlier this year, and on Tuesday more than 1,000 deaths were reported.
“It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” Mr Trump said. “It is something I don’t like saying about things, but that is the way it is.”
The president held daily, multi-hour press conferences when coronavirus first began spreading across the US earlier this year. But he stopped briefing reporters after suggesting people should ingest household disinfectant to ward off infection. Until this week, he had not led a coronavirus press conference since late April.
Tuesday’s briefing was more staid than earlier ones, lasting just over half an hour. The president took a handful of questions from reporters, but was less combative than in previous briefings, encouraging Americans to wear masks and take additional measures to stop the spread of the virus.
“My administration will stop at nothing to save lives,” Mr Trump said, adding that vaccines would arrive “sooner than anyone thought possible”. Earlier on Tuesday, executives from pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, testified before Congress about their vaccine efforts.
The president initially refused to wear a mask but appeared last week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a hospital for veterans, with his mouth and nose covered. He said on Tuesday that “everybody” should wear a mask if they are unable to keep their distance from others.
“We are asking everybody that when you are able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask, whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact,” Mr Trump said. “We need everything we can get.”
When asked why he did not wear a mask in public more frequently, Mr Trump removed one from his pocket, saying: “I do actually do it when I need, I mean, I carry the mask.”
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the campaign of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said: “President Trump’s preposterous claim tonight that he has a ‘relentless focus’ on Covid-19 rings hollow when stacked up against the months he has spent dismissing the incredible damage that’s been caused by this virus — even repeating tonight that it will simply ‘disappear’ after it’s left 140,000 Americans dead and our economy reeling.”
Mr Trump, who has been at odds with members of the White House coronavirus task force, appeared alone at the podium on Tuesday, though Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, sat nearby.
Some Trump administration officials, including Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser, have publicly turned their fire on Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in recent days.
The president told Fox News at the weekend that Dr Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, was a “little bit of an alarmist”, but maintained the two had a good relationship.
Dr Fauci told CNN that he was “not invited” to the president’s press conference on Tuesday.
The briefing demonstrated a shift in tone for Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election in November and has seen his approval ratings fall as more Americans disapprove of his handling of Covid-19.
However, the briefing was not without controversy. When asked about Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite who was arrested earlier this month on charges that she helped Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls, Mr Trump said: “I wish her well.
“I have met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach and I guess they lived in Palm Beach,” Mr Trump said. Epstein maintained a home in Palm Beach, Florida, less than two miles from the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort.