WASHINGTON — President Trump appeared frustrated that the country would not emerge from its coronavirus lockdown in the near future even as he and other officials warned of a rising death toll and a continuance of restrictive measures for weeks and maybe months to come.
“There will be death,” Trump warned flatly at one point during Saturday’s briefing of the White House coronavirus task force. More than 8,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. And even with most of the country under lockdown, the death toll will continue to climb, reflecting the lag between time of infection and the onset of illness.
Trump’s competing imperatives amounted to a somewhat confusing message on Saturday evening. The confusion was compounded by questions about impeachment, which ended only two months ago but, for all that has happened since, might as well be a decade in the past.
Those questions were precipitated by Trump having fired, on Friday night, inspector general of the intelligence community Michael Atkinson, whose handling of a whistleblower complaint in September set the whole process in motion.
Atkinson was branded a “total disgrace” by the president, who was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate. Some of his staunchest Democratic adversaries are already calling for an investigation of his coronavirus response.
Trump had previously said he wanted the country to begin returning to work by Easter, on April 12. In recent days, he has backed off that optimistic projection after consulting with Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, the top doctors on his task force.
On Saturday, the impatience to return to normal was evident once again. "We have to get back to work. We have to open our country again," the president said, a day after shattering unemployment numbers had some wondering if another Great Depression was at hand.
For the most part, Trump was sober on Saturday. “We’re coming to a time that’s going to be very horrendous, probably a time like we haven’t seen in this country,” he said at one point, adding a few moments later that “it's going to be really some very bad numbers."
At the same time, he repeated a favorite refrain of some conservatives, who have said that the coronavirus “cure” — that is, a nationwide shutdown — cannot be worse than the disease itself. He did suggest, at Saturday’s briefing, that some churches could open for Easter, albeit with “great separation outside.” He said it was “something we should talk about.”
For now, the cure will have to stay in place, a fact that Trump does not dispute, even if he is irritated by it. “The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” said Dr. Birx. “This is the moment to do everything that you can on the presidential guidelines,” she went on, preparing Americans for continued isolation.
“This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store,” she said, “not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family safe. And that means everybody doing the six-feet distancing, washing your hands.”
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