The Trump administration’s top infectious disease expert lowered his U.S. coronavirus death toll estimate from upward of 240,000 to 60,000 on Thursday, offering a glimmer of hope in the pandemic darkness.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Brooklyn-born director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a briefing from the White House that the new estimate reflects the success of social distancing and statewide stay-at-home orders.
“What we are doing is working and therefore we need to continue to do it,” said Fauci, a senior member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force. “I know I sound like a broken record — that’s good. I want to sound like a broken record. Let’s just keep doing it.”
But Trump — who’s itching to reopen the U.S. economy amid disastrous unemployment numbers and plummeting stock markets — offered a remarkably different point of view.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be opening up very, very, very, very soon,” the president said during the same briefing.
Trump appeared to contradict his task force again, as he claimed the U.S. coronavirus testing system is the “best in the world,” even as Fauci and other health experts said testing needs to be widely expanded before the economy can be safely reopened.
As of late Thursday, nearly 16,500 people had died from COVID-19 in the U.S., meaning only Italy now has a higher count.
More than 460,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus — far more cases than any other country.
Fauci and other members of Trump’s task force last month unveiled a horrific estimate holding that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from the virus, even if social distancing guidelines were stringently maintained. At the time, they said an incomprehensible 2 million Americans could die if guidelines weren’t followed.
Fauci’s updated estimate also assumes social distancing recommendations continue to be followed.
New York, the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has been on a mandatory stay-at-home order since last month, meaning all non-essential businesses are closed. Several other states have enacted similar restrictions.
“That’s what you have to do,” Fauci said.