WASHINGTON — President Trump predicted on Sunday night that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic may reach as high as 100,000 in the United States, far higher than he had forecast just weeks ago, even as he pressed states to begin reopening the shuttered economy.
Trump, who last month forecast that 60,000 lives would be lost, acknowledged the virus has proved more devastating than he had expected but said parks and beaches should begin reopening and schools should resume in-person classes by this fall.
“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” he said in a virtual “town hall” meeting from the Lincoln Memorial on Fox News. “That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person over this.”
But he credited himself with preventing the toll from being worse. “If we didn’t do it, the minimum we would have lost was a million two, a million four, a million five, that’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher, it’s possible higher than 2.2.
During the two-hour broadcast, he also acknowledged he was warned about the coronavirus in his regular intelligence briefing on Jan. 23 but asserted the information was characterized as if “it was not a big deal.”
Trump confirmed reports that his intelligence briefings cited the virus even as he argued that it had not been presented in an alarming way that demanded immediate action.
“On Jan. 23 I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no real import,” he said. “In other words, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.’ It was a brief conversation and it was only on Jan. 23. Shortly thereafter, I closed the country to China. We had 23 people in the room and I was the only one in the room who wanted to close it down.”
Trump was referring to his decision on Jan. 30 to limit travel from China, where the outbreak had started, a move that in fact was recommended by some of his advisers and came only after major American airlines had already canceled flights. Some public health advisers have said the travel limits helped slow the spread to the United States but complained the Trump administration did not use the extra time to adequately prepare by ramping up testing and medical equipment.
Trump said his travel limit was not driven by the Jan. 23 warning. “I didn’t do it because of what they said,” he said. “They said it very matter-of-factly, it was not a big deal.”
During the Fox broadcast, former vice president Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat who is challenging Trump in this year’s presidential campaign, posted a short campaign video on social media criticizing the incumbent’s leadership.
“Donald Trump thought the job was about tweets and rallies and big parades,” a narrator says. “He never thought he’d have to protect nearly 330 million Americans. So he didn’t.”
Also during the town hall, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the criticism he faced when he did not wear a mask during a visit Tuesday to the Mayo Clinic. “I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic,” Mr. Pence said.
Trump also said he has little doubt China misled the world about the scale and risk of the coronavirus outbreak and then sought to cover that up. “I think they made a very horrible mistake,” he said at the town hall meeting. “They tried to cover it.” He alluded to additional information he said will come out soon to back up his claims, which China has rejected.
Trump promised more federal aid is coming for Americans put out of work by the outbreak and vowed to press ahead with reopening the economy. He said he won’t agree to pass further stimulus measures without a payroll tax cut.
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.