Trump calls for limiting gatherings to 10 people, says epidemic could last until July or August


He sounded a lot different than usual at today’s press conference. Let me stress: A lot different.

I wonder what’s changed to make him take on this newly somber no-BS tone about what we’re in for. By nature he’s someone who instinctively puts the most optimistic face on endeavors in which he’s involved. This isn’t optimism, though. This is hard reality:

Scott Gottlieb is hopeful that with aggressive social distancing measures we might turn the corner on this thing by the end of April. Trump is now recommending those measures — no gatherings of more than 10 people, please — but his timeline is much longer. Although I think Gottlieb meant that late April is when cases will begin to fall whereas Trump may mean that July or August is when the crisis might substantially abate.

Was there bad medical news behind the scenes today that’s driving his new sobriety, maybe? This is ominous:

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Reportedly Bill de Blasio’s aides were so exasperated by his inability to grasp the threat to NYC, despite presentations with charts and graphs, that some threatened to quit if he didn’t order the city’s schools and restaurants shut down ASAP. Maybe someone in the White House had more luck getting through to Trump. The days of “this’ll be over soon” are gone:

Maybe it was the news elsewhere about ever more draconian lockdowns that made an impression on him. Six Bay Area counties will soon be under “shelter in place” orders, i.e., don’t leave your home unless you really need to. Mike DeWine said he’d file a lawsuit to try to force the postponement of tomorrow’s presidential primaries in Ohio until June in order to prevent transmission of the virus at the polls. In France, Emmanuel Macron announced that the country was on a “war” footing and that family gatherings should be banned. Measures like this seemed unimaginable a week ago. Now they seem inevitable. We’re all in a daze.

Or maybe it was the crushing day on Wall Street that shook Trump out of complacency. I nearly fell off my chair on Friday when it came out that he was sending autographed printouts of the day’s market rally around to friends. Not only was that idiotic in light of how much wealth has been lost lately, Friday’s rally notwithstanding, but it’s the sort of thing a politician might reasonably do only if they truly believed the worst was behind them. You don’t declare “Mission Accomplished” on day seven of the war, after you’ve had a week of rising casualties followed by one good day. You declare “Mission Accomplished” once you have reason to think that the tide has turned irrevocably, as George W. Bush could tell you.

Today feels like the day he learned in the hardest possible way that this mission will take a long time to accomplish. No more autographs for day-long rallies, knowing what tomorrow could bring:

Maybe the market tanking again forced him to give up on the happy talk. His new assessment of what’s going to turn this around is exactly right:

Fiscal stimulus will help revive markets. Sober leadership will help calm markets. But nothing’s going to end the uncertainty that’s made markets manic depressive except controlling the spread of the virus. Solve the public health problem and you solve the economic problem. Easier said than done, I know, but he’s got the right idea now.

He’s even tweeting good advice:

Susan Collins grumbled on Friday that it’d be better if he stopped speaking publicly about coronavirus and let Pence do it instead. If he’s going to speak about it going forward the way he did today, that won’t be necessary. If he’s going to revert to bad habits tomorrow, then yeah, hand it off to Pence. Don’t even carry his remarks live on TV when he starts riffing.

There’s good news swirling amid all the bad if you look closely. The very first shot in the coronavirus vaccine trial was administered today, the first step in a year-long journey. A Chinese study suggests that high temperature and high humidity “significantly” reduce the transmission of the virus, a good omen as summer approaches. Limited data also suggests that Gilead’s experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which proved ineffective against Ebola several years ago, actually is effective against COVID-19. And although the virus apparently can be transmitted through the air, the best evidence is that that doesn’t happen easily. You need to be in prolonged close quarters with an infected person, like a family member, to have a meaningful risk of inhaling droplets containing the virus. Riding an elevator with a stranger who’s infected is unlikely to result in transmission.

So rest easy. In time, everything’s going to be okay. I think. In lieu of an exit question, two tweets for your consumption. One is of White House coronavirus czar Deborah Birx appealing directly to young Americans not to be vectors of disease for vulnerable older people by avoiding contact with each other. The second is, uh, reality.

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