(CBS News)-Now that the U.S. has surpassed 60,000 COVID-19 deaths, the lower end of what President Trump had said he thought the U.S. could see, he is now predicting up to 100,000 will die. Late last month, he said, “If you look at what original projections were — 2.2 million — we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.”
At a virtual town hall hosted by Fox News Sunday evening, Mr. Trump said, “We’re going to lose anywhere from 75-, 80- to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing,” though he feels U.S. projections are on the low side compared to other countries.
The president said the country should reopen soon, and it can be done safely. “We can have it both ways and reopen,” he insisted.
Older Americans should be watched and protected, he said, but if people practice social distancing, “I really believe you can go to parks, you can go to beaches. You keep the spread, you stay away a certain amount. And I really think the public has been incredible.”
He also urged schools and universities to begin again normally in the fall. “I want them to go back,” he said. “We have to get our country back. Yeah, I don’t want to do this forever.”
Mr. Trump criticized governors who are taking a cautious approach to reopening their states. He slammed Virginia for plans to remain closed until mid-June. He also criticized Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, accusing her of asking for nothing during the conference calls he holds with governors and then later complaining publicly about his administration.
“Every governor there, we asked them, ‘What do you need?’ Not one governor needed anything. Now all of a sudden you see her on the Sunday — I watched it,” he said. “‘Well, we should get this and we should get that.’ She ought to get back to running her state properly. Because she should have brought it up on the phone call.”
Addressing questions about the speed with which his administration reacted to the virus, Mr. Trump said his administration will be releasing a report Monday or Tuesday detailing what he was told in briefings in early January about COVID-19.
Pushed on what he believes happened in Wuhan, China, and whether the virus was able to spread due to a mistake or an intentional action, he said he believes it was a “horrible mistake” that China then tried to cover things up. He told viewers he has not ruled out imposing more tariffs on China as punishment, calling tariffs the “greatest negotiating tool.”
He said he thinks there will be a vaccine by the end of the year, a quicker timeline than the 12-to-18 months federal experts have suggested.
On the economy, Mr. Trump promised there would be “more help coming” but didn’t offer specifics, though he said there wouldn’t be a “Phase 4” relief package without the payroll tax cut he has been pushing. He added that the federal government would not be bailing out states for what he called their own prior mismanagement.
Vice President Pence, who also appeared at the virtual town hall, now admits he should have worn a mask when he visited the Mayo Clinic last week. Pence explained that because he and Mr. Trump are tested often and “the CDC has made it clear that you wear a mask to prevent you from conveying the coronavirus to other people,” he didn’t think wearing one was necessary.
But he conceded, “I should have worn the mask at the Mayo Clinic. And I wore it when I visited the ventilator plant in Indiana.”