- President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been largely inconsistent over the course of 2020.
- He started out the year claiming the US had it “totally under control.”
- Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus cases and death rates rose sharply in the United States, and the pandemic became an emergency that several states are still battling.
- Still, Trump continued to insist repeatedly that it would just “disappear” or “go away.” He repeatedly downplayed the pandemic while spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and who’s vulnerable to it.
- Toward the end of 2020, the president began to push for Congress to recognize the gravity of the situation, demanding that lawmakers come up with a bill that includes far more money in direct payments than they originally agreed upon.
- Here’s a look at his fluctuating COVID-19 response over the course of 2020.
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In the course of 12 months, President Donald Trump went from brushing off the pandemic to demanding that Congress pass $2,000 stimulus checks to help people contend with financial burdens.
In January, Trump said the pandemic was “totally under control” — even as the coronavirus spread rapidly.
His rhetoric shocked Americans, who were catching the disease and dying from it. For months, hospitals struggled to keep up and didn’t feel like they had the proper resources to contain the spread of the virus.
Trump began wearing a mask in public for the first time in July, months after health agencies first began urging Americans to do the same.
Journalists have documented and questioned him on his decision to downplay the pandemic. In September, it was revealed that Trump admitted to journalist Bob Woodward that he had been downplaying the pandemic.
After that, he began to push for relief, urging Congress to pass stimulus checks to help Americans offset the financial damage brought on by the pandemic.
Here’s a timeline detailing the evolution of Trump’s response over the course of 2020:
On January 22, Trump underestimated the threat of the virus, saying, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
In the days following, Trump reiterated his claim that the disease would be manageable. “It will all work out well,” he tweeted on January 24.
Meanwhile, his closest advisors began to warn him that they’re expecting the pandemic to be “rough.”
“This will be the biggest national security threat you face,” Robert O’Brien told Trump on January 28. “This is going be the roughest thing you face.”
Trump’s “totally under control” remark inspired a documentary of the same name that streamed on Hulu and detailed the US response to the pandemic.
On February 6, the first American died from the disease.
Publicly, though, Trump continued to downplay the pandemic throughout the entire month. He predicted, for example, that the disease would just “go away” entirely in April.
On February 25, Trump very prematurely said “we’re very close to a vaccine.” His staffers clarified that he was referring to an ebola vaccine, not a coronavirus vaccine. But a vaccine for ebola had already been approved months before in December.
A day later, he compared the coronavirus to the flu and said again that it would just “disappear.” He also praised his administration’s response to the pandemic.
“We have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue,” Trump said during a Black History Month event at the White House. “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear. And from our shores, you know, it could get worse before it gets better. Could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”
Privately, however, Trump spun a different tale. He told journalist Bob Woodward on February 7 that the coronavirus is “more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
“This is deadly stuff,” he said in a taped interview with the journalist that was made public in September.
The pandemic swiftly escalated and began to hit Americans hard. Globally, the death rate climbed up to 3.4%, a fact that Trump tried to cast doubt on.
“Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number,” Trump said in an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity. “Now, this is just my hunch, but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people who do this, because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly. They don’t even see a doctor.”
He continued praising his administration and telling Americans falsely that the virus would shortly go away. His rhetoric, however, fell entirely out of line with the facts and some of his actions.
On March 13, for example, Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.
That same day, Trump said he doesn’t “take responsibility at all” for the shortage of coronavirus tests available. The US produced test kits at a much slower rate through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention than other countries did. State-level health authorities and healthcare providers were most impacted by the delays.
Days later, New York City became known as the epicenter of the virus. At the end of March, more than a third of the entire world had entered some form of a lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.
The same month, Trump also tried to reverse course on his rhetoric, claiming he’s been taking it seriously for months. “I felt like it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” he said, a false claim that goes against all the other rhetoric he’s used to downplay the disease since its first US appearance in January.
On March 27, Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package that included $1,200 direct payments to Americans.
Trump declined to wear a mask, going against the guidance issued out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies.
“I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know,” he said. “Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just don’t.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus continued to spread. Governors continued shuttering small businesses nationwide in an effort to contain it.
Still, Trump kept patting himself on the back. “I couldn’t have done it any better,” he said during a White House briefing, when asked about his handling of the pandemic.
At one point that month, he suggested injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus. “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning,” he said. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see.”
Health officials and doctors everywhere immediately began warning Americans not to follow this suggestion. Injecting yourself with bleach or other disinfectants is dangerous and would not cure COVID-19.
In this month, Trump fluctuated between conceding that people are dying quickly and once again reiterating the false claim that the coronavirus would go away soon.
“Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people,” he said. His own coronavirus task force projected much higher death estimates. The US death rate swiftly passed 100,000 at the end of May, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Trump also continued to insist that his administration was effectively rolling out supplies to deal with the vaccine. When one nurse told him equipment supply had been “sporadic,” Trump replied, “Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people.”
On May 29, Trump said the US would be “terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization.”
Trump continued to claim the coronavirus was “fading away” or “dying out.” Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus cases and death tolls continued to rise.
Trump countered data and facts by saying the numbers keep increasing because of more widespread testing.
“The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of GREAT TESTING, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down,” he tweeted on June 25. “The Fake News doesn’t like telling you that.”
By the end of June, the United States was home to the second-highest death rate per capita and made up a quarter of the world’s total confirmed cases.
Trump contradicted Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of his own White House coronavirus task force and the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist.
Fauci said in July that the US is “knee deep” in the first wave of the pandemic and called it a “serious situation” that must be addressed.
“I think we are in a good place,” Trump said in an interview. “I disagree with him. You know, Dr. Fauci said, ‘Don’t wear masks,’ and now he says, ‘Wear them.’ And you know, he’s said numerous things. ‘Don’t close off China. Don’t ban China.’ And I did it anyway. I sort of didn’t listen to my experts and I banned China.”
Trump also promised once again to deliver a vaccine “very soon.” “We will have it delivered in record time,” he said on July 27, months before a vaccine would be approved by the FDA.
Additionally, Trump shifted gears on his own mask-wearing policies, saying he’s “all for masks.” Up until that moment, Trump had repeatedly refused to wear one in public.
“OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” Trump tweeted on August 3. Local officials in multiple states mulled keeping schools closed to in-person learning to curb the spread of the virus. Before schools could reopen, task force member Dr. Deborah Birx said, the virus outbreaks must be contained.
Two days later, the president insisted that children are immune to the coronavirus. “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease,” he said in a Fox interview that he posted online. Facebook removed the video and flagged it as coronavirus misinformation.
On August 22, Trump spread more misinformation, encouraging the use of hydroxychloroquine as a method of treatment for the coronavirus.
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2020
For months, Trump and his allies have defended the drug, regarding it as a coronavirus treatment. But the general consensus at the time was that the drug would neither treat nor prevent COVID-19.
“I really do believe that we are rounding the corner. The vaccines are right there,” Trump said during a briefing on September 10.
“We have rounded the final turn,” he said moments later. This is a claim he’s repeated throughout the entire month.
On September 22, the US death toll surpassed 200,000, marking another grim milestone for the pandemic.
Throughout the month of September, Trump held in-person (and sometimes indoor) campaign rallies with thousands of often-maskless attendees. When asked if he thought about and was concerned with spreading the coronavirus at these rallies, Trump said, “I’m on a stage. It’s very far away, so I’m not at all concerned.”
Trump on October 2 announced that he and first lady Melania have both tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump was transported to the Walter Reed Medical Center, where he stayed for a few days before being released.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he tweeted, just ahead of leaving the hospital.
In mid-October, Trump continued to claim that the US was “rounding the turn” and that the coronavirus “is disappearing.”
The United States at this time was facing tremendous spikes in confirmed cases.
In the background while Trump continued to downplay the pandemic, the two chambers of Congress were butting heads on the contents of the next coronavirus stimulus package. Both the Republicans and the Democrats disagreed on fundamental aspects of the package, such as total federal allocation and what specifically it would entail.
Trump in particular had been urging Congress for weeks to get out another round of relief for cash-starved Americans. On October 30, he promised a stimulus package “immediately after the election,” a timeline that proved unrealistic for Congress.
In November, spikes continued around the holiday season, and the US death toll increased by tens of thousands within a span of weeks, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Pharmaceutical companies were in the middle of fast-tracking coronavirus vaccine trials and submitting potential treatment and prevention options for approval with the Food and Drug Administration.
Around the highly contested presidential election which Trump lost, the president railed against his rival President-elect Joe Biden, saying Biden was in favor of more lockdowns. Trump also said a Biden presidency would mean the vaccine effort would be slowed down.
Meanwhile, Trump and White House staffers were planning to host in-person holiday parties for Thanksgiving, despite guidance specifically against that from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Congress at this point had yet to reach a deal on the next stimulus package.
The FDA authorized the use of various vaccines, which were immediately shipped out to every state in the country.
Trump announced the approval of Pfizer’s vaccine in an all-caps message on Twitter. In a video he tweeted, he called it a “medical miracle.” The approval of Pfizer’s vaccine came 10 months after he said in February that one would be available shortly.
Congress in December continued to debate the contents of the next stimulus package until finally striking a deal on December 20, just ahead of the Christmas holiday. It’s a $900 billion rescue package that includes $600 in direct payments to Americans.
In the final days of 2020, Trump struck down the bill, urging Congress to increase direct payments to $2,000. It’s unclear whether he will sign the $900 billion.