Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Trump Didn't See It Coming: Coronavirus Deaths Increased Tenfold This Month

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump take part in a ceremony at the White House to mark Earth Day.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump take part in a ceremony at the White House to mark Earth Day.

A month ago, President Trump went on Fox and downplayed the potential lethality of the novel coronavirus and compared it to the seasonal flu.

"We've had horrible flus," Trump said March 24. "I mean, think of it: we average 36,000 people. Death. Death. I'm not talking about cases, I'm talking about death — 36,000 deaths a year. People die — 36 [thousand] — from the flu. But we've never closed down the country for the flu. So you say to yourself, 'What is this all about?'"

Trump's numbers on the flu have come into question, but even by his own cited numbers, there have now been far more deaths from COVID-19 — in less than two months. As the chart below shows, the curve nationally is hardly flattening by that measure.


Don't see the graphic above? Click here.

The United States saw its first documented death from the novel coronavirus Feb. 29, though new data suggest that the first death may have been weeks earlier. The day before that Feb. 29 death, Trump claimed it was Democrats who were "politicizing" the coronavirus and said it was "their new hoax" to criticize his administration's response to it.

A week later, the president was touting poll numbers (that have since receded) and saying, "Anybody that wants a test can get a test." (That still isn't close to true.)

A week after that, despite world health officials' warnings — and a day before it was declared a pandemic — Trump was calling the outbreak "unexpected" and urged people to "stay calm. It will go away."

By Trump's Fox town hall near the end of March, just 706 Americans had diedfrom the virus and there were just under 54,000 cases. Since then, the number of Americans who have died from it has gone up 65 times.

In April alone, the number of deaths has gone up almost tenfold, from 4,780to more than 46,000, as of Wednesday night.

Trump is now focused on reopening — without implementing a national testing plan — and even says he's encouraged and that "it's a beautiful thing."

But the reality is that deaths from the coronavirus continue to spike, Trump didn't see it coming, and without the kind of careful reopening advised by health officials, there could be the kind of "rebound" that Dr. Anthony Fauci warned about in Wednesday's briefing.

"Although I know one has the need to leapfrog over things, don't do that," Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. "Do it in a measured way. This is a successful formula. The problem is if we don't do that, there is a likelihood that we will have a rebound. The one way not to reopen the economy is to have a rebound that we can't take care of."

The briefing in brief

Here are highlights from Wednesday's White House coronavirus task force daily briefing:

  • There's no such thing as "coronavirus embers": President Trump expressed doubt about a potential serious second wave of the coronavirus this fall. He claimed new cases may appear on a smaller scale. "We may have some embers," he said, "and we're going to put them out." That contradicts Fauci. "We will have coronavirus in the fall, I am convinced of that," Fauci said, adding, "Whether or not it's going to be big or small is going to depend on our response." The fact is: there is no lessened version of this virus. And without a vaccine or a proven treatment, another outbreak is likely without strict social distancing measures.
  • Redfield forced to play cleanup: Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed comments he made to The Washington Post on Tuesday. He said that the United States could see an "even more difficult" second wave of the coronavirus in the fall when paired with combating the flu. "I didn't say that this was going to be worse," Redfield said on Wednesday. You can parse "difficult" versus "worse." Take in these two quotes: Trump said of Redfield, "He was misquoted, totally misquoted." (Trump said Redfield was misquoted four times in the briefing.) Redfield, when asked if he was quoted accurately, responded: "I'm accurately quoted in The Washington Post."
  • Trump says he disagrees with Georgia's Republican governor: The president voiced his opposition to Gov. Brian Kemp's executive order allowing certain businesses to reopen Friday. Trump later refrained from advising Georgians to adhere to his guidance over Kemp's, praised the governor and touted his own role campaigning for Kemp in 2018. Fauci also disagreed with Kemp's executive order saying, "If I were advising the governor, I would tell him that he should be careful." Fauci added that he was against Kemp "going ahead and leapfrogging into phases" the state was not yet ready for. Kemp responded later, saying he was going forward.
  • Trump repeats false claim on testing: The United States has tested about 4.2 million people. The rest of the world combinedhas tested a total of about 18.5 million. Yet Trump repeated the false claim that the U.S. has tested more than all other countries put together. "The testing problem," Trump said Wednesday, "we've done more than any other nation in the world. Go a step further. If you added up the testing of every nation in the world, put 'em together, we've done substantially more than that. You people aren't satisfied."
  • It's true that the U.S. has tested more than any other country, but certainly not all of them combined. What's more, the numbers are beside the point. First, the U.S. was late to testing, allowing the virus to spread farther than it otherwise might have, despite Trump's boast Wednesday that "We were so fast." No, the U.S. wasn't. Secondly, 4.2 million is just 1.3% of the country, hardly enough to feel good about knowing the breadth of the spread of the virus.
  • Carson to lead council focused on supporting black and Hispanic communities: Trump announced that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson will focus his White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council on "restoring" black and Hispanic communities hurt by the coronavirus "to full economic health." Trump added that he plans on asking South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to assist the council with its efforts.
  • Trump denies knowing scientist who says he was removed from key post: Trump denied knowing Rick Bright, who was previously in charge of a key agency helping to develop a coronavirus vaccine and claims to have been moved out of his job after he expressed opposition to unproven treatments favored by Trump. "If a guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was maybe he wasn't," Trump said, adding, "I don't know who he is." Bright, through his attorneys, said he will request an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general.
  • Quote of the briefing

    "We win, and we win. We want to win, we always — we win. Sometimes we don't want to win, so we just go to a standstill. But that's always, that's not the way this country works."

    — Trump, on the country largely being shut down

    Other key coronavirus stories from NPR

    Adding A Nylon Stocking Layer Could Boost Protection From Cloth Masks, Study Finds: A new study from Northeastern University finds that placing nylon stocking material over a cloth mask may significantly increase its ability to keep people safe. "It really improved the performance of all of the masks, and it brought several of them up and over the baseline mask we were using, which was a 3M surgical-type mask," said Loretta Fernandez, a professor at Northeastern.

    Reminder: Are We Flattening The Curve? States Keep Watch On Coronavirus 'Doubling Times': Officials are tracking "doubling times'' as an indication of when a state's curve may be beginning to flatten. The doubling rate refers to the number of days it takes for a state to match its amount of coronavirus cases, deaths or hospitalizations. With this measurement, doubling times for New York City COVID-19 cases have gotten longer, reaching eight days, as of April 10.

    READ: Trump Signs Proclamation Temporarily Suspending Immigration: President Trump officially suspended immigration to the United States on Wednesday evening for 60 days, saying it will lessen further economic strain on the country. "This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens," the president said.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

    Domenico Montanaro
    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
    Elena Moore
    Elena Moore is an assistant producer for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also does political reporting for the Washington Desk and fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting.
    Related Stories