President Trump was told as early as late January that COVID-19 would be the worst pandemic in a century, but admitted to downplaying the risk publicly.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Bob Woodward on March 19 for his forthcoming book Rage, according to multiple reports.
Three days before, Trump told reporters that he had “always viewed it as very serious.”
The new book reveals that national security officials briefed President Trump on the severity of the pandemic on Jan. 28.
“This is going to be the roughest thing you face,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien reportedly told Trump. Another official, Matthew Pottinger, followed up with a comparison to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
Privately, Woodward reported, Trump expressed fear about COVID.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump reportedly told Woodward on Feb. 7. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
Publicly, Trump spent the following weeks minimizing the threat as the virus spread throughout the United States. During a Feb. 26 Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump suggested that the new virus would be less deadly than the flu.
“The flu, in our country, kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year. That was shocking to me,” Trump said. “And, so far, if you look at what we have with the 15 people and their recovery, one is — one is pretty sick but hopefully will recover, but the others are in great shape.”
At the time, there were around 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Trump added: “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
More than 188,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States.