Trump: ‘Very tough two weeks’ coming in COVID-19 battle

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force speaks at Tuesday's briefing.

With cases of and deaths from the spread of the COVID-19 virus rising rapidly in the United States, President Donald Trump said Tuesday the next couple of weeks are going to be among the hardest the country has seen.

With death tolls now projected by some models to land between 100,000 and 200,000 fatalities, Trump told Americans to get ready for hard times.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks. And then hopefully, as the experts are predicting … we’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel. But this is going to be a very, very painful two weeks.”

In numbers updated Tuesday night, the United States has seen more than 188,000 cases and 3,873 deaths, according to numbers posted on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard. The rising numbers forced Trump on Sunday to extend the social distancing guidelines he originally recommended – which were to expire Monday – until April 30.

Trump called it “absolutely critical” the American people follow the guidelines until then.

“It’s a matter of life and death, frankly,” he said.

Both Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, the lead scientists on Trump’s coronavirus task force, agreed mitigating the spread of the disease by following social distancing policies was crucial to the fight.

Birx said the model they were using is “very much focused on the next two weeks” and the stark reality of what the virus will do as it moves through communities. That’s why the behavior of the people is so important.

“It’s communities that will do this,” she said. “There’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors,  each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.”

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Fauci said the country, in the “next several days to a week or so,” is going to see a continued spike in deaths. He said Americans “cannot be discouraged by that,” because mitigation efforts are “actually working,” as he pointed to ever-so-slight downward shifts in numbers in New York.

“Our goal, which I believe we can accomplish, is to help (hot spots) get around that curve, but as importantly to prevent those clusters of areas that have not yet gone to that spike, to prevent them from getting that spike,” Fauci said. “The 15 days we had of mitigation clearly has had an effect. The reason we feel so strongly about the necessity of the additional 30 days is that now is the time, whenever you’re having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator.

“We don’t accept (the 100,000 death total) number,” he added. “We’re going to do everything we can to get far below that.”

In the meantime, Trump touted the moves the federal government has made, including:

  • Approving disaster declarations in 29 states, including Michigan.
  • Approving Title 32 funding to pay for states to use their national guard units.
  • Administering 1.1 million coronavirus tests.
  • Sending “massive amounts” of medical equipment and supplies to the states.

He said the government had sent a large number of ventilators to Michigan. Vice President Mike Pence said it was 400.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier in the week acknowledged the state had started receiving medical equipment, particularly some 120,000 masks.

“This is good news, but we still need more,” she said on Monday. “One hospital will go through 10,000 of these masks in a day. This is helpful, but we have a much greater need.”

Trump also announced the U.S. Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration had released more details about the paycheck protection program included in the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package he signed last week. The program offers some $350 billion in loans to small businesses. Applications will be taken starting Friday.