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Timeline: How Trump Has Downplayed The Coronavirus Pandemic

President Trump walks from Marine One to the White House on Thursday as he returns from a fundraiser in Bedminster, N.J.
Carolyn Kaster
President Trump walks from Marine One to the White House on Thursday as he returns from a fundraiser in Bedminster, N.J.

President Trump, who announced overnight that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus, has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and often contradicted public health experts and members of his own administration in their more grave warnings about the virus.

Most notably, Trump acknowledged to veteran journalist Bob Woodward that he knowingly downplayed the coronavirus, even though he knew it was more deadly than the seasonal flu.

"I wanted to always play it down,"the president said in a March interview, the audio recording of which was made public in September. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

Here is a sampling of what Trump has said about the coronavirus threat:

Jan. 22

The day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed what it then thought was the first case of the coronavirus in the United States, Trump told a CNBC reporter that the country had it "completely under control" and suggested that he was not concerned about a pandemic.

"We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine," he said.

Feb. 27

During a February meeting with Black leaders, held as U.S. health officials warned that the coronavirus pandemic might stay with the country for some time, Trump said a "miracle" might make the coronavirus pandemic "disappear."

"It's going to disappear. One day — it's like a miracle — it will disappear," Trump said. "And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows."

March 11

During an Oval Office address, Trump said that for "the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low" — though he did warn that the "elderly population must be very, very careful." That same day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, told members of Congress at a House hearing that "bottom line, it's going to get worse."

How much worse, Fauci said, would depend on the country's ability to contain the "influx of people who are infected" coming from other countries and "the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country."

April 3

When the CDC made its initial recommendation that people wear cloth or fabric face coverings, Trump said it was going to be "really, a voluntary thing" and emphasized that he would not do it.

"You can do it. You don't have to do it. I'm choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that's OK. It may be good. Probably will. They're making a recommendation. It's only a recommendation," Trump said.

Trump — who stresses how often he and the people around him are tested — wore a mask in public for the first time in July, for a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

May 19

Trump told reporters that he viewed the high number of U.S. cases of the coronavirus as a "badge of honor" and a reflection of the country's testing capacity.

"When we have a lot of cases, I don't look at that as a bad thing," the president said. "I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing, because it means our testing is much better. So, if we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, we would have far few cases, right?

"So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it's a badge of honor," he added. "It's a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done."

Days later, the U.S. recorded 100,000 known deaths from COVID-19.

July 19

During an interview with Fox News Sunday, the president seemed to suggest that some people without serious symptoms were being tested and confirmed as positives and added to the total number of infections.

"Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day," Trump said. "They have the sniffles, and we put it down as a test." He added that many of those sick "are going to get better very quickly."

At the time of Trump's interview, more than 3.7 million coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the United States, and more than 140,000 Americans had died.

Sept. 21

During a campaign speech in Swanton, Ohio, Trump claimed without evidence that the coronavirus "affects virtually nobody," downplaying the risk of the extent of the pandemic and the danger that it poses to individuals.

In that campaign speech, he suggested that the virus is dangerous only to older people with heart problems and preexisting conditions, sentiments that go against the guidance of most public health experts.

"It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems, if they have other problems, that's what it really affects, that's it. In some states thousands of people — nobody young — below the age of 18, like nobody — they have a strong immune system — who knows?" Trump said.

"Take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. It affects virtually nobody," he added. "It's an amazing thing — by the way, open your schools!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.