Trump has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, even pushing for the country to reopen by Easter, against health experts' advice.
Donald Trump sought to reset expectations for the coronavirus crisis on Sunday, stating that a death toll of 200,000 people would mean his administration had done "a very good job."
The comments came during a Rose Garden press conference in which Trump announced he would be extending social distancing measures through at least April 30, in order to slow spread of the virus.
Trump has said in recent weeks that he wants the country to return to work, against health experts' advice.
"You're talking about 2.2 million deaths, 2.2 million people from this," Trump said Sunday. "And so, if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 — that's a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job."
For context, that number is higher than the death toll from the Vietnam War, Korean War, Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan combined.
Health experts — even those within the Trump administration — have warned that the crisis is going to get worse in the coming weeks, a sharp departure from Trump's previous comments downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak.
On Sunday, before Trump spoke, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that millions of people in the United States would become infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus at the center of the pandemic.
"I mean, looking at what we're seeing now, you know, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000 (deaths)," Fauci told CNN. "But I don't want to be held to that."
Fauci noted that there would likely be "millions of cases."
On the "Today" show Monday morning, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said 200,000 deaths was a best-case scenario.
Birx said 2.2 million deaths was the worst-case scenario, but 200,000 deaths would happen only "if we do things almost perfectly."
Trump's bar for his administration, in terms of what he believes constitutes a job well done, has changed drastically over the past month.
"When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero," Trump said on Feb. 26, "that's a pretty good job we've done."
In the weeks since, Trump has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, claiming on Feb. 26 that Democrats were issuing warnings about how bad the outbreak could be as "a new hoax" to make him look bad, and suggesting on March 10 that his administration was "prepared" and already "doing a great job with it."
"It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away," he said at the time.
As recently as March 15, Trump claimed that the pandemic was "something that we have tremendous control over."
And on March 24, Trump was urging businesses and churches to reopen by Easter — April 12 — ignoring warnings from health experts who said such a decision would likely worsen the pandemic and lead to further deaths.
As of Monday morning, there were at least 141,995 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the New York Times. At least 2,486 people have died.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.