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25 times Trump downplayed COVID-19 publicly after telling Bob Woodward on tape it was 'more deadly than strenuous flus'

Trump, Dr. Fauci, Birx briefing masks mask
President Donald Trump with the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the White House on May 15.
Jabin Botsford/Getty Images

In early February, President Donald Trump told the veteran reporter Bob Woodward that COVID-19 was deadlier than "even your strenuous flus." The conversation was recorded.

On February 7, as he publicly downplayed the threat of the virus, Trump told Woodward: "It goes through the air. 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."

Weeks later, Trump told Woodward he was deliberately misleading the public on the true dangers of the virus because he did not want to cause panic.

"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic," Trump told Woodward on March 19.

Trump has hardly shied from stoking fears during his presidency. He's threatened to deploy combat troops to American cities amid unrest following George Floyd's death in police custody and has sought to portray peaceful protesters as "THUGS." On Tuesday, he warned in a tweet that "if Biden gets in, this violence is 'coming to the Suburbs,' and FAST."

25 times Trump publicly downplayed the threat of coronavirus after telling Woodward it was more deadly than the worst flus:

  1. February 19: "I think it's going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let's see what happens, but I think it's going to work out fine."
  2. February 24: "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA…Stock Market starting to look very good to me!"
  3. February 26: "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low…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."
  4. February 28: "It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear."
  5. March 7: "It came out of China, and we heard about it. And made a good move: We closed it down; we stopped it. Otherwise — the head of CDC said last night that you would have thousands of more problems if we didn't shut it down very early. That was a very early shutdown, which is something we got right."
  6. March 9: "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"
  7. March 10: "It hit the world. And we're prepared, and we're doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."
  8. March 12: "It's going to go away. … The United States, because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point … when you look at the kind of numbers that you're seeing coming out of other countries, it's pretty amazing when you think of it."
  9. March 23: "America will again and soon be open for business…Parts of our country are very lightly affected."
  10. March 26: "They have to go back to work; our country has to go back. Our country is based on that, and I think it's going to happen pretty quickly."
  11. March 29: "So you're talking about 2.2. million deaths — 2.2 million people from this. And so, if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 — that's a horrible number — maybe even less, but to 100,000; so we have between 100- and 200,000 — we all, together, have done a very good job. But 2.2, up to 2.2 million deaths and maybe even beyond that. I'm feeling very good about what we did last week."
  12. March 30: "New York is really in trouble, but I think it's going to end up being fine. We're loading it up, we're stocking it up ... And then by a little short of June, maybe June 1, we think the — you know, it's a terrible thing to say, but — we think the deaths will be at a very low number. It'll be brought down to a very low number from right now, from where it's getting to reach its peak."
  13. March 31: "It's going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month and if not, it hopefully will be soon after that."
  14. April 7: "It will go away."
  15. April 28: "This is going to go away. And whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we'll be able to handle it."
  16. May 5: "I think we're doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it's going to pass, and we're going to be back to normal."
  17. May 8: "This is going to go away without a vaccine — it's going to go away, and we're not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time."
  18. May 11: "In every generation, through every challenge and hardship and danger, America has risen to the task. We have met the moment, and we have prevailed."
  19. June 15: "If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, actually."
  20. June 17: "The numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out."
  21. July 1: "I think we're going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that's going to sort of just disappear, I hope."
  22. July 19: "It's going to disappear, and I'll be right."
  23. July 30: "Young people are almost immune to this disease."
  24. August 3: "They are dying, that's true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it.
  25. September 4: "And by the way, we're rounding the corner. We're rounding the corner on the virus."

In fact, these are just a small sample of the number of times Trump has publicly downplayed COVID-19 and embellished the US response. According to a Washington Post analysis, Trump had downplayed the virus 108 times.

Public-health experts have slammed Trump's handling of the virus, often zeroing in on the dangers of his nonchalant approach to the pandemic both in messaging and in action.

The US has reported the most COVID-19 cases (over 6.3 million) and fatalities (nearly 190,000) of any country. The US reported an average of 850 deaths a day from the virus in early September, an uptick from July but below the peak in spring, per the New York Times.

More Americans have died from COVID-19 than have died in combat in all US wars since 1945 combined.

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