Trump’s play is to play down virus

In words and deed, min­i­mizes threat even as cases rise

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Aamer Mad­hani and Zeke Miller

WASH­ING­TON — Gone are the dayswhenPr­es­i­dent Don­ald Trump held forth daily at the White House podium flanked by mem­bers of his coro­n­avirus task force. And the days when Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence an­dother task force of­fi­cials would head to Trump’s of­fice to brief him im­me­di­ately af­ter their meet­ings.

The White House won’t say when Trump last met with the task force.

In the week since he emerged from coro­n­avirus iso­la­tion, Trump has demon­strated new de­ter­mi­na­tion to min­i­mize the threat of the virus that has killed al­most 219,000 Amer­i­cans.

“The light at the end of the tun­nel is near. We are round­ing the turn,” Trump told sup­port­ers Fri­day at an event in Fort My­ers, Florida, one of many mo­ments dur­ing aweek of cam­paign­ing when the pres­i­dent tried to play down the virus threat. “Don’t lis­ten to the cyn­ics and an­gry par­ti­sans and pes­simists.”

In word and ac­tion, he is push­ing an op­ti­mistic out­look even as coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions are spik­ing in Europe and pub­lic health of­fi­cials are rais­ing alarm that the in­fec­tion rate in the U.S. is climb­ing to­ward a new peak.

In the past week he has spread mis­in­for­ma­tion about the virus, un­der­cut the na­tion’s lead­ing in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert and kept up his prac­tice of

shun­ning mask use. The ef­fort to di­min­ish the virus has gone into over­drive as Democrats try to frame the race for the White­House as a ref­er­en­dum on Trump’s han­dling of the worst U.S. pub­lic health cri­sis in over a cen­tury.

The na­tion av­er­aged more than 50,000 new coro­n­avirus cases per day over the past week.

Olivia Troye, a for­mer aide to the task force who has emerged as a harsh Trump­critic, says that early in the cri­sis Trump was “ask­ing the right ques­tions”

when doc­tors spoke to him about their con­cerns that the coun­try could face a surge of cases in the fall and win­ter.

“That’s why it so com­pletely reck­less of him, af­ter hav­ing COVID him­self, to turn around this week and dou­ble down on tak­ing the mask off and parad­ing around like it’s not a nec­es­sary thing, call­ing him­self im­mune,” she said. “He’s dou­bling downon mis­in­for­ma­tion that has been com­ing out of his mouth for the en­tire ten­ure of this pan­demic.”

At his NBC News town hall Thurs­day night, Trump was asked whether he should have known bet­ter than to an­nounce his nom­i­na­tion of Judge Amy Coney Bar­rett to the Supreme Court with a Rose Gar­den cer­e­mony where few guests wore masks and so­cial dis­tanc­ing­was nonex­is­tent.

He re­sponded by in­cor­rectly cit­ing a Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion study to falsely sug­gest that mask wear­ing doesn’t mit­i­gate the spread of the virus. The study did not say that.

Trump also has been guarded in releasing in­for­ma­tion about his health and wouldn’t say whether he had tested neg­a­tive on the day of his first de­bate with Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, two days prior to his pos­i­tive di­ag­no­sis, al­low­ing only, “Pos­si­bly I did, pos­si­bly I didn’t.”

Af­ter first lady Me­la­nia Trump re­vealed last week that their son, Bar­ron, had tested pos­i­tive for the ill­ness, Trump used his child’s health scare and re­cov­ery to try to make the case that the virus is­no­big deal for young peo­ple.

“It hap­pens. Peo­ple have it, an­dit goes,” Trump­said at a rally in Iowa. “Get the kids back to school.”

While cam­paign­ing, Trump and his team often go with­out masks, a re­turn to the sta­tus quo for a pres­i­dent who ear­lier in the cri­sis sug­gested that some peo­ple wore masks just to sig­nal their dis­ap­proval of him.

In one strik­ing mo­ment last week, se­nior ad­viser Hope Hicks re­turned to cam­paign­ing with Trump more than two weeks af­ter she tested pos­i­tive for the virus. Hicks, the pres­i­dent and other aides climbed aboard­Marine Onewear­ing no masks.

Trump de­fends his de­ci­sion to­go­mask­lessby say­ing that doc­tors tell him he isn’t shed­ding virus any­more and he re­mains “im­mune” for at least four months.

Pub­lic health ex­perts say that by re­fus­ing to wear masks, Trumpand­his ad­vis­ers are miss­ing an op­por­tu­nity to model be­hav­ior that is es­sen­tial to keep the rest of Amer­ica safe.

Dan Eber­hart, a prom­i­nent Repub­li­can donor and Trump sup­porter, said the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric since leav­ing the hos­pi­tal isn’t eas­ing jit­ters among con­ser­va­tive con­trib­u­tors.

Sev­eral GOP sen­a­tors in tough races are hav­ing dif­fi­culty keep­ing up with an avalanche of Demo­cratic cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions that’s be­ing driven in part by lib­eral anger over the pres­i­dent’s han­dling of the pan­demic, Eber­hart said.

“Keep­ing up the ve­neer that ev­ery­thing is fine may soothe the pres­i­dent’s ego, but it isn’t mo­ti­vat­ing donors,” Eber­hart added.

DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Se­nior ad­viser Hope Hicks, who re­cently tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, walks with White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows on Thurs­day in Mary­land.

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