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As CNN's Jim Acosta said later in the day, Tuesday's Donald Trump was a different one than we'd seen. He wasn't bragging about his ratings and didn't even pick a fight with the reporter after being asked a tough question at his daily press briefing. Reality seemed to be sinking in with the White House coronavirus task force predicting that 100,000 to 240,000 will probably die from coronavirus COVID-19 before it's done, just in the United States, even with mitigation.
As it is, 800 more deaths in the U.S. were announced on Tuesday, totaling more than 3,700 overall. There are more than 800,000 COVID-19 cases worldwide.
The task force leaders, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, emphasized that while it is likely to see between 100,00 and 240,000 deaths, they are hopeful that if everyone adheres to strict guidelines, the number won't be that high. However, it may not prevent the number of deaths from equaling that dire outlook.
Officials are not accepting that prediction as predetermined, they noted, while also mentioning that the high number of cases in New York and New Jersey moved the bar higher with the predictions. But those are numbers that can't be taken back once they're out there and in everyone's minds.
"As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it," said Fauci. "We're going to do everything we can to get it significantly below that."
When discussing those models, Trump seemed to be taking it more seriously than he has recently and certainly more seriously than he had in the beginning when he was referring to the coronavirus as a hoax. Yet, he still did not accept responsibility for the way his administration has handled the pandemic when the question was posed by Acosta. Nor did he accept any blame for the testing failures, blaming it on previous administrations.
While previously, Trump had insisted the coronavirus was nothing but the flu, on Tuesday he completed a 180, insisting that coronavirus COVID-19 is "not the flu."
The president also admitted he has been reluctant to face the cameras with bad news, despite being encouraged to take on a graver tone.
"I don't want to be negative," he said. "This is easy to be negative about, but I want to give people hope, too. You know, I'm a cheerleader for the country."
Despite his changed tone, it seemed like the reality of it all was still sinking in with him. "It's an incredibly dark topic. An incredibly horrible topic. And it's incredibly interesting. That's why everybody is, they're going crazy, they can't get enough of it," he said, though just a few days ago he had bragged about his press briefing ratings. Tuesday he seemed to be realizing it was the topic and not him.
There were some advisers who were not supportive of Trump's decision to extend the social distancing guidelines throughout the end of April. Some have also privately questioned the models his task force is using that convinced him to extend the guidelines, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
Trump faced pressure from business leaders and some conservative economists to end the guidelines for parts of the country by Easter to aid the economy, and while he floated the idea, he eventually decided against it and extended the guidelines instead.
Birx and Fauci said on Tuesday that the only thing preventing up to 2.2 million deaths, as suggested in a British study, is the distancing guidelines. "There is no magic bullet. No magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behavior," said Birx.
The predictions don't have support from everyone in the White House. Some are skeptical that the models Birx and Fauci are following could be wrong. But these models rely on assumptions, so they cannot be relied on 100 percent. Additionally, there is much about the spread of COVID-19 that is still unknown.
Fauci mentioned that the projections could change depending on how everything plays out. "We don't accept that number, that that's what it's going to be," he said. "We want to do much better than that."
Health experts have warned that the lack of adequate testing makes it impossible to know how many people are really infected. Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the coronavirus task force, said in the same briefing that 100,000 people are being tested now every day in the U.S.
On Sunday during an Oval Office meeting, Fauci and Birx had presented Trump with the models that showed between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths could occur. It made an impression on him, as did news footage of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, near where he grew up. It made an impression on him to see the dire circumstances there, especially the refrigerated trucks being used to store the bodies of COVID-19 patients who have passed.
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