Donald Trump went solo in the White House briefing room for his first coronavirus briefing since April, and his words reflected the reality that cases of COVID-19 are running rampant across the country.
“It will, probably, unfortunately get worse before it gets better. [That is] something I don’t like saying about things, but that is the way it is,” Trump told reporters from the lectern, with the conspicuous absence of Vice President Mike Pence and the medical professionals who made up the White House’s coronavirus task force.
With his poll numbers sliding, Trump said on Monday that he planned to return the 5 PM ET briefings that generated “record numbers watching.”
As sober as he was in his assessment, Trump continued to refer to the virus as the “China virus,” signifying its place of origin, and insisted that he took adequate steps at the onset of the outbreak in January. But he did not address whether states opened their his economies too soon, often at his urging and without adequate measures put in place to social distance and encourage the wearing of masks.
At Tuesday’s briefing he did urge that people wear masks. “Get a mask,” Trump said. “Whether you like a mask or not, they have an impact. And we need everything we can get.”
On Monday, for the first time, Trump tweeted out a picture of himself wearing a mask, something that health officials have been urging for months. In May, he retweeted a post from Fox News’ Brit Hume that appeared to mock Joe Biden in public, and the president told a reporter that his mask wearing was an effort to be “politically correct.” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, meanwhile, told reporters at the time that is was “a bit peculiar” that Biden wasn’t wearing a mask in his basement, when he was next to his wife, but “he’s wearing one outdoors when he’s socially distant. So I think that there was a discrepancy there.”
MSNBC and Fox News covered Trump’s initial comments live, but CNN did not. MSNBC broke away for a fact-check, and CNN eventually joined the briefing when Trump took a few questions from reporters.
Trump still claimed that the U.S. had a lower fatality rate than virtually any other country, even though Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged him on that point in an interview that aired on Sunday. He also said that the virus would disappear, albeit he appeared to be suggesting that would come with the development of a successful vaccine.
The president acknowledged some of the states that have seen spikes in cases, including Florida, which he said was “in a little tough, a big tough position,” while praising its governor, Ron DeSantis, and the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. More than 10,000 new cases were reported in Florida on Monday and more than 7,400 in Texas. Other states including California and Georgia also have had upticks this week.
Trump’s briefing was shorter than some of the sessions he had with reporters in the spring, when they could stretch to more than two hours and veer into many different topics, including those unrelated to the virus.
There was a moment when that happened on Tuesday, when Trump was asked about Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, and whether she would name powerful people.
“I don’t know, I haven’t really been following it too much,” Trump said. “I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well, whatever it is.”