President Trump, speaking in unusually somber tones, told Americans on Tuesday to brace for a “very, very painful two weeks” and begged them to stay at home as much as possible through April 30, saying 100,000 to 200,000 people could die from COVID-19 despite his team’s best efforts to fight the coronavirus and that they want to depress that number.
Mr. Trump wanted to get the nation “raring to go” by Easter, but sobering models forced him to reverse course and plead with people to work and learn at home, avoid nonessential travel and stay out of restaurants for additional weeks.
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.
The president called for sacrifices as his coronavirus task force said the virus could kill far more Americans than car crashes or influenza do each year.
“As sobering a number as it is, we should be prepared for it,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Administration officials said the models are guided by epidemiology but aren’t gospel. Actual outcomes will be guided by human behavior.
Social distancing, a term that has become part of the lexicon, “is going to be the answer to our problems,” Dr. Fauci said.
Mr. Trump said social distancing is working, noting up to 2 million people might have died had the nation “done nothing.”
“A hundred thousand is, according to modeling, a very low number,” Mr. Trump said. “I think we’re doing better than that.”
Still, the estimates are sobering — the notion of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities is double, triple or multitudes more than the number of deaths the U.S. would typically see from influenza and pneumonia in a given year.
Mr. Trump is contending with the fallout in a year in which he hoped to ride economic optimism to reelection in November.
“It’s a matter of life and death, frankly, it’s a matter of life and death,” the president said. “We had the greatest economy in the world. We had the best unemployment and employment numbers by far.”
The sober tone is a turnabout for Mr. Trump, who one week ago pressed to open up businesses, noting the nation doesn’t shut down for other drivers of death.
“We lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies and say, stop making cars. We don’t want any cars any more,” he told a Fox News virtual town hall on March 24.
Influenza kills from 12,000 to 61,000 people in the U.S. per year, while car crashes kill roughly 35,000 to 40,000, according to federal data.
Estimated COVID-19 deaths don’t come close to the annual U.S. death toll from heart disease or cancer, each of which kills roughly 600,000 to 650,000 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, the daunting COVID-19 estimate exceeds annual suicides, at 47,000, or deaths from diabetes, at more than 80,000.
The pandemic has hit Americans unevenly, with some unable to make mortgage and rent payments and tapping food banks while others are revving up Netflix and waiting to see whether they take a hit.
The president said everyone needs to do their part, as health care workers brave the worst.
“It’s like military people going into battle, going into war,” Mr. Trump said. “The bravery is incredible. You have lots of things flying around in the air. You don’t know what you’re touching, is it safe. Things are happening that we’ve never seen before in this country.”
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It killed thousands in East Asia before the epicenter shifted to Europe and the Americas.
The U.S. has recorded the most infections in the world, with more than 185,000 — and its death toll of over 3,800 exceeds that of China’s, although many doubt the official numbers from Beijing. Recoveries in the U.S. total more than 6,900, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Everyday life has been turned on its head. Parents are juggling telework with home-school duties, churches are streaming their services on YouTube, and restaurants and department stores are furloughing workers en masse, as governors tell retailers to close their doors unless they offer necessities such as food, gasoline or medicine.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, told Americans to stay the course, noting that Washington state appeared to flatten the increase in cases by keeping people far apart.
Washington saw the worst of the pandemic early on, though the U.S. epicenter is in New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said his state now has more than 75,000 coronavirus cases and 1,550 coronavirus-related deaths — easily the most of any state in the country.
Mr. Cuomo acknowledged that everyone wants the crisis to be over, but that nobody knows when that will be.
“It is not going to be soon,” he said.
The governor said public and private hospitals in New York need to start coordinating more closely amid reports of facilities that are nearing or at capacity and that are suffering from stressed, overworked employees.
He said private hospitals in the state have to help the public ones.
“When they get up near capacity — transfer patients. Elmhurst got up to capacity, you had other public hospitals that had open beds,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily briefing on the outbreak.
Elmhurst Hospital in Queens has become symbolic of the strained system. Mr. Trump recently described seeing haunting images of body bags being hauled out of the facility, which is near his native home.
The crisis is hitting close to home for the New York governor. His brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, said Tuesday he tested positive for the virus but said he will do his show from the basement of his family home.
New Jersey has the second-worst death toll, at nearly 270, while Michigan has emerged as a worry spot, with nearly 6,500 cases and almost 200 deaths.
Elsewhere, Louisiana reported 1,200 new cases in a single day — raising its total to more than 5,000 — while the D.C. mayor and governors in Maryland and Virginia issued stay-at-home orders this week, citing fears their hospitals will be overwhelmed.
• Dave Boyer and James Varney contributed to this report.