WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump returned to the White House podium on Tuesday to offer a stark warning about the progression of the coronavirus, urging Americans to wear a mask and predicting the spread of the disease will worsen.
“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” Trump said.
In a shift in tone, and after weeks of focusing public events on other issues, Trump urged Americans to wear a mask. The president, who was not wearing a mask himself, previously had said that wearing a mask was a personal choice – though public health officials have increasingly argued that mask-wearing is effective in limiting the spread.
“We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask,” Trump said. “Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact, they have an effect. We need everything we can get.”
Trump returned to the podium Tuesday in an effort to regain control of the narrative surrounding his administration’s response to the coronavirus as cases continue to surge in several states.
“As one family we mourn every precious life that’s been lost,” Trump said. “We will defeat the virus.”
We’re asking everybody when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask.
Trump also referred to the next phase of stimulus being negotiated on Capitol Hill.
“We’re working very hard on it we’re making a lot of progress,” Trump said. “I also know that both sides want to get it done.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a frequent presence at earlier briefings who has since faced criticism from senior White House aides, said he was not invited to attend.
The White House suspended Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings in April after the president made a series of controversial statements that some Republicans felt undermined his support. Others argue the briefings offered Trump and public health officials an opportunity to explain the administration’s response to voters.
Trump’s return to the briefing room was nevertheless a tacit recognition that the virus remains a threat – to public health, to the nation’s economy and to the president’s own chances for reelection. Though he mostly staged events on other issues in recent weeks, Trump is facing questions about his handling of the crisis as his poll numbers have slip against Democrat Joe Biden in several battleground states.
Trump indicated Monday that he hopes to use the briefing to tout developments in the search for a vaccine and therapeutics to treat the disease. Drugmakers told lawmakers Tuesday that a vaccine may be available as early as the beginning of 2021.
But the president is almost certain to field questions about reopening strategies in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, which have experienced spikes in cases.
“I was doing them, and we had a lot of people watching – record numbers watching,” Trump said this week in explaining the decision to bring back the briefings. “It’s a great way to get information out to the public as to where we are with the vaccines, with the therapeutics, and, generally speaking, where we are.”
Trump suspending the near-daily briefings in April shortly after he suggested the virus could be treated with antiseptics, a statement that drew alarm and warnings from public health officials but that the White House said was misconstrued. Some Republicans thought the briefings, and Trump’s penchant for going off-script, were damaging.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News last week that ending the briefings is one of the reasons Trump’s approval numbers on handling the coronavirus have gone “maybe a little softer” in recent months. But she also acknowledged there was not universal support with the White House for bringing them back.
She said her position was “my own view, which is different than some people here.”
More: Trump pushes mask wearing, says he’ll resume White House briefings
The briefings were also a chance for Americans to hear from public health experts advising the White House, including Dr. Birx and Fauci. While Trump has insisted he has a good relationship with Fauci, he also recently described him as an “alarmist” and top White House aides took to openly criticizing him.
Speculation swirled about whether the White House would invite Fauci to the briefing. Speaking in a series of interviews beforehand, Fauci said he was not invited Tuesday and assumed he would not take part.
“I was not invited up to this point I’m assuming I’m not going to be there,” he told CNN.
Trump has sought to downplay the coronavirus pandemic even as more than half of all states, including California and Michigan, have paused reopening plans or are taking steps to halt the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in cases across the country.
Contributing: David Jackson, Michael Collins
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