Trump plays down virus as he steps up pitch for second term

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Trump plays down virus as he steps up pitch for second term

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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WASHINGTON, United States (AP) — Gone are the days when President Donald Trump held forth daily at the White House podium flanked by members of his novel coronavirus task force. And the days when Vice-President Mike Pence and other task force officials would head to Trump's office to brief him immediately after their meetings.

The White House won't say when Trump last met with the task force.

In the week since he emerged from novel coronavirus isolation, Trump has demonstrated new determination to minimise the threat of the virus that has killed more than 215,000 Americans and complicated his chances of winning another four years in the White House.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is near. We are rounding the turn,” Trump told supporters Friday at an event in Fort Myers, Florida, one of many moments during a week of campaigning when the president tried to play down the virus threat. “Don't listen to the cynics and angry partisans and pessimists.”

In word and action, he is pushing an optimistic outlook even as novel coronavirus infections are spiking in Europe and public health officials are raising alarm that the infection rate in the US is climbing toward a new peak.

In the past week, he has spread misinformation about the virus, undercut the nation's leading infectious disease expert and kept up his practice of shunning mask use. The effort to diminish the virus has gone into overdrive as Democrats try to frame the race for the White House as a referendum on Trump's handling of the worst US public health crisis in over a century.

The US economy is still roughly 11 million jobs short of recovering all 22 million jobs that were lost when the pandemic struck in early spring. The nation averaged more than 50,000 new novel coronavirus cases per day over the past week. National and battleground public opinion polls suggest that Trump faces stiff headwinds in his bid for a second term.

Olivia Troye, a former aide to the task force who has emerged as a harsh Trump critic, says that early in the crisis Trump was “asking the right questions” when doctors spoke to him about their concerns that the country could face a surge of cases in the fall and winter.

“That's why it so completely reckless of him, after having COVID himself, to turn around this week and double down on taking the mask off and parading around like it's not a necessary thing, calling himself immune,” she said. “He's doubling down on misinformation that has been coming out of his mouth for the entire tenure of this pandemic.”

At his NBC News town hall on Thursday night, Trump was asked whether he should have known better than to announce his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court with a Rose Garden ceremony and indoor reception, where few guests wore masks and social distancing was non-existent.

He responded by incorrectly citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study to falsely suggest that mask-wearing doesn't mitigate the spread of the virus. The study did not say that.

Trump also has been guarded in releasing information about his health and wouldn't say whether he had tested negative on the day of his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden, two days prior to his positive diagnosis, allowing only, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn't.”

After first lady Melania Trump revealed this week that their son, Barron, had tested positive for the illness, Trump used his child's health scare and recovery to try to make the case that the virus is no big deal for young people.

“It happens. People have it, and it goes,” Trump said at a rally in Iowa. “Get the kids back to school.”


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