(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump launched headlong into his push to reopen the country on Tuesday, saying Americans should begin returning to their everyday lives even if it leads to more sickness and death from the pandemic.
Trump, speaking in Phoenix during his first trip outside Washington in more than a month, said he’s preparing for “phase two” of the U.S. response to the coronavirus. That will include disbanding the White House task force of public health experts, including Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, that have steered the government response to the outbreak so far.
Trump acknowledged that reopening the economy would likely lead to more suffering.
“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” Trump said. “But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”
On his visit to a Phoenix-based Honeywell International Inc. factory producing medical masks, Trump made his most forceful case yet that the economic damage to the country has become too great to sustain an extended shutdown. He encouraged Americans to think of themselves as “warriors” as they consider leaving their homes, a tacit acknowledgment of deep public reservations about re-opening the country too soon.
The president has expressed increasing frustration with the coronavirus-sparked recession that has put more than 30 million Americans out of work and hurt his case for a second term. The U.S. continues to have the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world, with about 1.2 million people infected and more than 70,000 killed so far.
Speaking separately in an ABC News interview that aired Tuesday evening, Trump said closing down the nation was “the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
And he was resolute about the decision to reopen the nation, despite the certainty of suffering it will cause until a vaccine is developed.
“There’ll be more death,” he said. “The virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.”
“But it’s been a rough process. There is no question about it,” Trump said. “I think our economy is going to be raging” next year, he added.
No Face Mask
While in Phoenix, Trump encouraged states to ease social-distancing measures and allow businesses to reopen, though he cautioned that it should be done “safely.”
Yet, the president declined to set an example for the nation by engaging in one government-recommended safety protocol himself: wearing a face mask. As he toured the Honeywell plant, Trump wore only safety goggles. Music from his standard campaign rally soundtrack played over loudspeakers, including Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and Guns N’ Roses’s “Live and Let Die.”
Senior White House officials also did not don the masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend when social distancing isn’t possible. Factory workers, members of the press and other support staff did. Trump also lamented that he had to stand six feet apart from two supporters during his speech, including one who was wearing a sequined denim vest with his campaign slogan.
Trump said that “doctors” he didn’t name had advised him to close the economy “for a couple of years.”
“I created, with a lot of other very talented people and the people of our country, the greatest economy in the history of the world. The greatest that we’ve ever had,” Trump said. “And then one day they said, ‘we have to close our country.’ Well, now it’s time to open up.”
Public-health experts have repeatedly warned the country risks a second wave of infections if restrictions are lifted too early, which could lead to another round of shutdowns and economic damage.
Models ‘So Wrong’
But even as Trump said a full-scale re-opening could lead to more deaths, he expressed optimism the virus would go away. And he added that if cases do rebound, it would be like a “fire” that could be extinguished “fast.”
He also dismissed two new projections that painted a gruesome picture of what could happen if the country lifts shutdown orders too quickly: a Johns Hopkins University model showing deaths could reach 3,000 per day by June 1 and a University of Washington analysis showing the U.S. death toll could reach 135,000 by the beginning of August.
“These models have been so wrong from day one. Both on the low side and the upside. They’ve been so wrong, they’ve been so out of whack. And they keep making new models, new models and they’re wrong,” the president said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier Tuesday the Johns Hopkins model, included in a government document obtained Monday by the New York Times, relied on “faulty assumptions” about mitigation efforts and didn’t represent federal government projections.
“The people of our country are warriors,” Trump said of Americans, some 69% of whom are “somewhat” or “very” worried about contracting Covid-19, according to an analysis of polls by fivethirtyeight.com.
Vice President Mike Pence said earlier Tuesday the White House has begun discussing disbanding the coronavirus task force that has advised Trump on the federal response to the outbreak, a move that could happen as soon as later this month.
“Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll have a different group, probably, set up for that,” Trump said in Phoenix.
When asked if the move meant he considers the mission of combating the virus to be accomplished, Trump replied: “No.”
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