President Donald Trump told author Bob Woodward that he deliberately played down the threat of the coronavirus to avoid creating a panic in the United States.
“Well, I think Bob, really to be honest with you … I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward in a phone conversation on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Details of Woodward’s book Rage were leaked to CNN and the Washington Post before it’s release on September 15, including audio clips of his conversations with President Trump.
The book details a conversation that Woodward had with Trump in which he described the virus in stark terms — more deadly than the flu.
“It goes through the air,” Trump said. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
Prominent Democrats and corporate media outlets seized on the comments, arguing that it was proof that Trump was deliberately misleading the American people about the seriousness of the virus.
When reporters accused him of downplaying the threat posed by the virus, Trump repeatedly said he was trying to avoid a panic.
“The statements I made are: I want to keep the country calm. I don’t want to panic in the country,” he told reporters on March 30. “I could cause panic much better than even you. I would make you look like a minor league player.”
By March 31, the president was referring to the coronavirus as a “deadly virus”
The book also details National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger telling Trump on January 28th that the virus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency.”
Trump declared a National Health Emergency on January 31 and enacted a travel ban on China in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control noted that from January 21 through February 23, 2020, public health agencies detected 14 COVID-19 cases in the United States that were all related to travel from China. The first nontravel–related case in the United States was confirmed on February 26 in a California resident who had become ill on February 13.