WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted Wednesday that he didn’t expect the coronavirus outbreak would spread to the degree it ultimately did, even as a newly released interview showed he was privately worried about how deadly and contagious the virus was in early February.
“You didn’t really think it was going to be to the point where it was,” Trump told reporters during an unrelated press conference at the White House. “All of a sudden, the world was infected. The entire world was infected.”
His comments contradict reports in an upcoming book from journalist Bob Woodward that describe a president who was fully aware of the potential danger Americans faced with the coronavirus and regarded it as “deadlier than even your strenuous flu.” Woodward pinpoints the time frame in which the president’s aides advised Trump that the pandemic would be the “roughest thing” he’d face in his presidency. Ten days later, Woodward writes, Trump reiterated the same sentiment during an interview.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Woodward writes Trump saying during a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
“This stuff is deadly,” he added, according to Woodward.
Trump had repeatedly minimized the danger to the American people during briefings at the time and continued to compare the coronavirus to the flu. He admitted so during a separate interview with Woodward. “I wanted to play it down,” Trump said, according to Woodward.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Trump did not deny Woodward’s report but called it a “political hit job” before insisting he was trying to avoid showing a sense of panic. Trump said the same when a reporter asked how the American people can trust what he says.
“Well, I think that’s really a big part of trust,” Trump said. “We have to have leadership. We have to show leadership. And the last thing you want to do is create a panic in the country.”
More than 190,00 Americans have died from the coronavirus, while more than 6 million people in the US have tested positive for the disease.