WASHINGTON — The two doctors spread out their charts on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
The projections were grim: Even if the U.S. were to continue to do what it was doing, keeping the economy closed and most Americans in their homes, the coronavirus could leave 100,000 to 200,000 people dead and millions infected. And the totals would be far worse if the nation reopened.
Those stark predictions grew even more tangible and harrowing when paired with televised images of body bags lined up at a New York City hospital not far from where Trump grew up in Queens.
The confluence of dire warnings and tragic images served to move the president off his hopes for an Easter rebirth for the nation’s economy.
“We’re thinking that around Easter that’s going to be your spike. That’s going to be the highest point we think, and then it’s going to start coming down from there,” Trump said Monday on Fox & Friends. “The worst that can happen is you do it too early and all of a sudden it comes back. That makes it more difficult.”
The bleak forecasts were carried into the Oval Office by Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who displayed to Trump projections that, on the low end, could yield 100,000 American deaths from COVID-19. One model showed that deaths could have soared past 2 million had there been no mitigation measures.
“We showed him the data. He looked at the data. He got it right away. It was a pretty clear picture,” Fauci told CNN on Monday. “Dr. Debbie Birx and I went into the Oval Office and leaned over the desk and said, ‘Here are the data, take a look.’ He just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we got to do it.’”
Over the weekend, the death count in New York City skyrocketed, the silence of the city’s empty streets shattered only by ambulance sirens. Makeshift medical tents were hastily erected in Central Park. And hospitals, including Elmhurst Medical Center in Queens, not far from Trump’s childhood home, were so overwhelmed that patients were lying in hallways and corpses stowed in refrigerated trucks.
“This is essentially in my community, in Queens, Queens, New York,” Trump said. “I’ve seen things that I’ve never seen before.”
Aides likened Trump’s emotional response to his reaction to the 2017 pictures of dead Syrian children that prompted him to give the order for the first air strike of his presidency. And the moment also revealed the sharp divides among those advising Trump, both inside and outside of the West Wing.
For weeks, those in the White House who warned that the doctors’ strict recommendations would cripple the economy — and Trump’s reelection chances — had the president’s ear and pushed him toward the idea of restarting business in the states where infections were low.
Trump’s decision to extend national guidelines to clamp down on activity left them disappointed.
Stephen Moore, a former Trump adviser who had been pushing the administration publicly and privately to roll back restrictions in places with low infection rates, said the economic impact would grow worse every day that the shutdown continues, with more bankruptcies and more jobs lost. He had urged Trump to begin to re-open in places like Idaho, Iowa and Nebraska, far from the infection hot spots.
But Trump was swayed by arguments that the fiscal pain would be worse if the economy was reopened and then forced to be shut again.
• Officials in Tampa, Florida, have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. Bail was set at $500, according to the jail’s website.
• A painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh was stolen in an overnight smash-and-grab raid at a museum in The Hague, Netherlands, that was closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, police and the museum said Monday.
• Moscow locked down its 12 million people as Russia braced for sweeping nationwide restrictions.
• Israel said 70-year-old Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is quarantining himself after an aide tested positive for the virus. And in Britain, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne who tested positive for the virus, ended his period of isolation and is in good health, his office said.
• Italy’s death toll climbed to nearly 11,600. But in a bit of positive news, newly released numbers showed a continued slowdown in the rate of new confirmed cases and a record number of people recovered.