President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, April 10, 2020, in Washington.

WHITE HOUSE - America’s COVID-19 death toll will be substantially lower than the 100,000 to 240,000 people previously projected, President Donald Trump predicted Friday.

“I think we’ll be substantially under that number,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing, suggesting it would more likely hover around 60,000 deaths. “We’ll see what it ends up being.”

The president also stated that universal testing for COVID-19 did not need to be in place before reopening the country, suggesting that screening for the virus was not necessary in large parts of the country where fewer cases have been reported.

At the end of March, the president announced a 30-day extension, until April 30, of guidelines to slow the spread of the highly infectious disease.

A health care worker waits for a bus outside a hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Boston, Massachusetts, April 10, 2020.

“I want to get it open as soon as we can,” said Trump of the economy during Friday’s lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters in the White House briefing room.

“I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God it’s the right decision,” Trump said.

Agencies see infection spike

Ending the closures of businesses and social distancing restrictions after just 45 days would lead to a dramatic spike in infection in the months ahead, according to U.S. government projections.

The projections obtained by The New York Times were from the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments.

The document, dated April 9, counters Trump’s optimistic view that the country could be ready to reopen “very, very soon.”

When asked about the government projections, Trump and members of the coronavirus task force said they were unaware of them.

Asked whether he would consider reimposing social distancing and shutting down the economy again if infections spiked a second time, the president replied he would consider that.

Trump emphasized that he believed it's possible to resume economic activity and ensure the coronavirus does not cause widespread infections to flare again.

“We’re going to go back to work and stay healthy,” Trump predicted.

Economic activity sinks

Global economic activity is dropping at an unprecedented pace, with U.S. output on track to decline at an annual rate of 50% or more in the second quarter and then resume growth in the second half of the year, according to a forecast released Friday by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

A woman looks to get information about job application in front of IDES (Illinois Department of Employment Security) WorkNet center in Arlington Heights, Ill., April 9, 2020.

Asked about similar estimates of a drop for U.S. gross domestic product in the current second quarter of the year, the president said, “This quarter isn’t the quarter I’m looking at,” predicting a chance for record fourth-quarter growth.

Trump said that probably next Tuesday he would announce an economic task force — what he termed an “opening our country council” — that will focus on restarting the economy and will draw from members, including elected officials, from different parts of the country.

“I want their views on what they think,” Trump said Friday.

He also said that next week he would announce the fate of U.S. government funding of the World Health Organization, which he has repeatedly blasted this week as “China-centric.”

Death toll

The number of reported deaths globally from COVID-19, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, now has surpassed 102,000 out of a total of 1,680,000 reported cases.

The actual toll is likely worse, amid suspicions of under-reporting by some countries such as China and Iran, and challenges to confirming cause of death, especially for those who did not succumb in hospitals.

The United States, by far, has recorded the most coronavirus infections — 487,000, with 18,000 deaths, “a fatality rate very, very low compared to other countries,” Trump said.

For the first time in the country, “we’re starting to level on the logarithmic phase,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force’s response coordinator, said. “We have not reached the peak.”

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