The White House came under new criticism on Tuesday over President TrumpDonald John TrumpState Department revokes visa of Giuliani-linked Ukrainian ally: report White House Gift Shop selling ‘Trump Defeats COVID’ commemorative coin Biden says he should not have called Trump a clown in first debate MORE’s insistence that Americans should not be “afraid” of the coronavirus, as polls showed him falling further behind Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenState Department revokes visa of Giuliani-linked Ukrainian ally: report Biden says he should not have called Trump a clown in first debate Biden inquired about calling Trump after coronavirus diagnosis MORE in key battleground states.
Trump told Americans not to fear the virus or let it “dominate” their lives after being diagnosed with COVID-19 himself and receiving treatment for 72 hours at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
On Tuesday morning, he sent out a tweet comparing the disease that has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States to the flu. Facebook took down a similar post by Trump, while Twitter attached a warning label to it. The flu has killed between 10,000 and 61,000 people annually since 2010, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
Trump’s allies argue that he is displaying strength and courage in the face of the virus. But health experts say Trump’s words and actions are both perplexing and damaging, obscuring the threat posed by the virus as it continues to spread throughout the country.
“I think what the president is doing is unfortunate,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University. “The numbers speak for themselves … this is now one of the leading causes of death in our country.”
Trump’s actions represent a tripling down on tactics the president has repeatedly used to rally his supporters, yet they do not appear to be playing well with the public four weeks from Election Day.
A CNN poll released Tuesday found Biden opening up his widest lead yet, 16 points, following last week’s chaotic presidential debate. An average of national polls from FiveThirtyEight gives Biden a roughly 9-point lead.
Trump sought to move past his illness on Tuesday, injecting himself into coronavirus relief negotiations by instructing aides to cancel the talks with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublican COVID-19 outbreak rocks the 2020 race Pelosi suggests Trump setting ‘dangerous’ example with quick return to White House Speaker Pelosi, House Democrats leave town, fail the American people MORE (D-Calif.) until after the November elections, which are four weeks away.
He also signaled excitement at participating in the next presidential debate on Oct. 15, despite uncertainty surrounding how his coronavirus infection would impact it. White House physician Sean Conley said in a brief memo Tuesday that Trump was reporting no symptoms and “continues to do extremely well.”
The Biden campaign has consistently hammered Trump over his rhetoric on and response to the pandemic, seeing it as the defining issue of the election.
Trump has repeatedly sought to change the subject while blaming China for the virus and criticizing Democratic office holders for backing too-stringent lockdowns to prevent its spread.
Polls show a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
The president has also come under criticism for holding campaign rallies and White House events with crowds and limited face coverings.
Biden on Monday night signaled he’s not afraid to attack Trump over the issue, even as the president recovers from his bout with the virus. Trump said Monday night he’d felt the best he had in 20 years, a statement public health experts criticized as irresponsible and one that provided an opening for Biden to attack a president who now says he’s healthy.
“Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them,” Biden said at an NBC News town hall Monday night.
In the latest episode of Trump downplaying the importance of masks, the president removed his face mask upon arriving at the White House residence on Monday evening. Trump walked up the steps to the Truman Balcony and took off his mask as reporters watched below; a photographer could also be seen behind the president, in close proximity to him.
“The scene tonight of the president waving on the White House balcony with several individuals in close proximity makes me shutter,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. “What the president is doing in his messaging and his behavior is reckless and dangerous.”
Biden has called for every governor in the country to impose mask mandates and for the federal government to take a much more active role in ramping up testing supplies and protective equipment for health workers, modeled after supply efforts during World War II.
The White House has described Trump’s return from the hospital as a moment of him showing strength, dismissing the criticism as the product of a biased media.
“In these moments in our country, it is highly important that the commander in chief express confidence to our domestic population, but it’s also very important to our allies and adversaries who are watching closely to see, is he projecting an image of strength? And that is exactly what he did last night,” White House communications director Alyssa Farah said on Fox News.
Farah also insisted that Trump only removed his mask when he was distant from others and that he had only “brief interaction” with the photographer, who was wearing a mask.
Still, the White House is grappling with its own outbreak, after Trump and other officials tested positive for the virus, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“I do think maybe one of the reasons why this eventually did hit the White House is because there was a lot of panic earlier on that it was going to hit and when it didn’t people became fatalistic,” said Joe Grogan, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “Overtime, it is really difficult to maintain stringent protocols when you are working in close proximity.”
Grogan also said that White House officials may have adopted a “false sense of security” due to the regular testing in the West Wing.
Trump and those who work in close proximity to him have been administered regular Abbott rapid tests to detect the virus, but the strategy did not prevent the coronavirus from infecting White House officials.
On Tuesday, the White House outlined the health and safety precautions it has taken within the residence throughout the pandemic, noting that staff are required to wear masks and that those in direct contact with members of the first family are tested daily. The White House also said that staffers are wearing full personal protective equipment and “continue to take all necessary precautions” in light of the recent positive cases in Trump and the first lady.
Del Rio, the Emory professor, said Trump’s bravado upon emerging from the hospital was akin to a gunshot survivor later claiming that getting shot is nothing to worry about.
“A lot of people who get shot don’t die,” he said.