President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on supporting Native Americans, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix.
Evan Vucci | AP
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday acknowledged that reopening parts of the nation’s economy now, against the advice of many health experts, would inevitably cost some Americans their lives. But he argued that the benefits outweighed the costs.
“It’s possible there will be some [deaths] because you won’t be locked into an apartment or house or whatever it is,” Trump told ABC’s David Muir in a rare network news interview. “But at the same time, we’re going to practice social distancing, we’re going to be washing hands, we’re going to be doing a lot of the things that we’ve learned to do over the last period of time.”
As of Tuesday, U.S. deaths had climbed above 70,000, with total cases at 1.2 million. But Trump argued that not reopening businesses also cost people their lives in the form of drug overdoses and suicides.
“We have to get our country back, you know, people are dying the other way, too. When you look at what’s happened with drugs, it goes up. When you look at suicides, I mean, take a look at what’s going on,” Trump said. “People are losing their jobs. We have to bring it back and that’s what we’re doing.”
The remarks echoed comments Trump made elsewhere on Tuesday during a visit to a Honeywell factory in Arizona that is producing N95 respirator masks. It was the president’s first trip outside of the Washington area since the pandemic took hold nearly two months ago.
“The people of our country are warriors,” Trump said during a roundtable earlier in the day. “I’m not saying anything is perfect. Yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country opened and we have to get it open soon.”
Trump’s acknowledgement that the decision to reopen the country now would likely cost lives represents a shifting White House calculus about risk and reward, given the economic hardship the closure of most businesses in most states has caused over the past month.
Since mid-March, more than 30 million Americans have filed claims for unemployment. Meanwhile, the $1,200 temporary relief checks that Congress approved for more than 100 million Americans were not designed to provide long-term solutions, just a short-term bridge until the country reopened.
Still, after a month during which the country has been in virtual lockdown, new coronavirus cases appear to have leveled off in some areas, but they haven’t plummeted the same way they have in countries like New Zealand.
“While mitigation didn’t fail, I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t work as well as we expected,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a televised interview this past weekend. “We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point, and we’re just not seeing that.”
“We may be facing the prospect that 20,000, 30,000 new cases a day diagnosed becomes a new normal and a thousand or more deaths becomes a new normal as well,” Gottlieb said. He also noted that the numbers of new cases are still rising in more than a dozen states, even as other states begin reopening.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.