What you really need to know from Tuesday's White House coronavirus briefing
The White House coronavirus task force briefings have become a seven-day-a-week affair, often lasting hours with multiple officials, including President Donald Trump, speaking. We've pulled out the biggest takeaways from Tuesday's briefing.
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They're expecting a lot of deaths in a short amount of time
The White House re-shared data publicly on Tuesday that President Trump had used privately in recent days about how many Americans they expect to die of the coronavirus. And it's harrowing: They estimate 100,000 to 240,000 deaths over the next few months. And that's the best-case scenario, if Americans stay in their homes and avoid interactions as much as possible.
"They're very sobering, when you see 100,000 people - and that's a minimum number," Trump said. Earlier, he warned ominously: "This could be a hell of a bad two weeks and maybe even three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we haven't seen before."
Fox News's John Roberts put that in perspective: So far, nearly 4,000 Americans have died. That means 90,000 people could die of the virus over the next few months or maybe even weeks. At least.
Deborah Birx, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said she expects the fatalities in the United States to be concentrated among the elderly, as they are in Italy. Italy's government has said the coronavirus is wiping out a generation. The data the White House is sharing indicate the U.S.'s older population could be hard hit as well.
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Social distancing is the only way to keep that number from being even higher
"There is no magic bullet," Birx emphasized. "There's no magic vaccine. It's behaviors."
To that effect, on Sunday, after wavering, Trump extended social distancing guidelines (no groups bigger than 10; stay home if you can) through April 30. And they are not ruling out extending this into the summer, given other models show that stringent stay-at-home efforts are the only way to take the curve down. "We hope it's enough," Trump said.
But the U.S. has begun social distancing late compared to other, similarly hard-hit countries like Italy, which locked the whole nation down before deaths skyrocketed. As of Monday, more than two-thirds of the American population is under stay-at-home orders in 30 states. But big states like Florida and Texas aren't part of that group, which could be especially concerning in Florida given the state's population leans older. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Tuesday he would consider putting one in place if the White House told him to.
On Tuesday, Trump declined that offer. "Unless we see something obviously wrong we will let the governors [make their own decisions]," Trump said.
When asked by reporters if these deaths could have been prevented if America started its social distancing sooner, Trump talked about closing border to China on Jan. 31 - which has nothing to do with social distancing. As recently as last week, Trump was comparing coronavirus to the flu.
Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said "probably, yes" if people were spreading the virus back in January and February without knowing it.
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Trump recommends people use scarves as masks in public
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering telling Americans to cover their faces in public (but to save actual masks for medical workers, some of whom are using bandannas for protection).
On Tuesday, Trump was asked about this. He said, basically: Sure, why not? And he suggested people could pull scarves from their closet to do it.
"My feeling is if people want to do it, there's certainly no harm to it," he said.
Birx said this recommendation is "still under consideration."
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Despite a shortage in hotspots, administration is holding back 10,000 ventilators
Trump said they're keeping those in the national stockpile rather than shipping them out to states desperate for them for two reasons:
1. Some localities and states are requesting ventilators that he didn't think they needed. Trump in the past has obliquely accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who has said his state needs 30,000 ventilators, of estimating a number that's too high.
2. They want to hold onto ventilators in case there's an unexpected flare up. Trump specifically mentioned Louisiana, which is a growing hot spot.
This news is going to be very frustrating to governors who feel like they have had to beg and plead to get ventilators from the national stockpile, only to see some states get more than they asked for, while others get less, without any explanation. "It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding," Cuomo said Tuesday.
"The problem is, with some people, whatever you give, it's never enough," Trump responded when a reporter read Cuomo's comments to him.
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President Trump's friend in a coma
He indicated as much several times: "And you also see where you have friends that go into the hospital and you say how, how is he doing it two days later and they say sir, he's unconscious or he's in a coma," he said.
And later: "It's not the flu. It's vicious. When you send a friend to the hospital and you call up to find out how is he doing? It happened to me. Where goes to the hospital. He says goodbye. Sort of a tough guy. Little older, little heavier than he'd like to be, frankly. And you call up the next day. How's he doing? And he's in a coma. This is not the flu."
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The Washington Post's William Wan contributed to this report.