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Sheer scope of coronavirus crisis eclipses Trump's talking points

President Donald Trump listens to Dr. Deborah Birx,

President Donald Trump listens to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, at Monday's briefing. Credit: EPA / Michael Reynolds

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

Grim numbers don't lie

The numbers alone are telling a grim story about coronavirus — dark beyond President Donald Trump's efforts to invoke a future "victory" over the pandemic. 

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx predicted anew Monday that U.S. deaths from COVID-19 could reach between 100,000 and 200,000. That is a "best-case scenario" if all precautions are followed, but Birx warned that "we're not sure ... that all of America is responding in a uniform way to protect one another."

New York State's official death toll reached 1,218. "That's a lot of loss. That's a lot of pain. That's a lot of tears. That's a lot of grief," said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The total number of confirmed cases in the state reached 66,497 as of Monday evening. See a roundup of pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. The U.S. totals rose to more than 160,000 infections and over 3,000 deaths, The Associated Press reported.

Other numbers: Macy's announced it will furlough most of its 125,000 employees. Oil prices dropped Monday while the Dow Jones rallied, at least briefly. The Navy hospital ship, the Comfort, now docked off Pier 90 in Manhattan is expected to expand overall hospital capacity by more than 1,000 beds, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.

Trump at his daily briefing Monday hailed the fact that more than 1 million coronavirus tests have now been administered across the U.S. He did so, of course, without acknowledging the difficulty his office has had for weeks getting them developed and distributed — or that other nations, including South Korea, have tested more per capita.

Trump also touted 6 million hydroxychloroquine doses distributed to hospitals without noting scientific limitations and doubts surrounding it. Ford and General Electric have retooled factories to make 50,000 ventilators in 10 days, Trump reported — also without noting how slowly this has gone. 

Also regarding numbers: Trump has famously minimized the possible impact in advance of the fatal spread, saying for example on Jan. 22 that "we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” Asked at his Monday briefing to explain this and similar claims, Trump rambled and attacked the reporter for the question.

Cuomo's calm dismissal

Despite the life-and-death crisis, Trump made it about himself again early Monday, telling "Fox & Friends" of Cuomo: “I wouldn't mind running against Andrew. I’ve known Andrew for a long time. I wouldn’t mind that but I’ll be honest, I think he’d be a better candidate than sleepy Joe.”

Pushed to respond later at his own briefing, Cuomo dismissed Trump's remarks and said he wouldn't take the bait. “This is no time for politics," he said. "I’m not going to rise to the bait of a political challenge ... This is no time for that, not in this state, not in this nation."

When asked about Trump's bizarre and vague statement about a mysterious loss of New York's medical equipment, Cuomo said: "I don’t know what that means; I don’t know what he’s trying to say.” Apparently, nobody else did either, and at his briefing, Trump offered a convoluted riff about something a mask-producing company's executive told him.

As Newsday's Gormley reports, nearly 9 in 10 New York voters approve of Cuomo’s handling of the outbreak, according to a Siena Research Institute poll.

Still to be addressed

Among the mounting national problems that the administration has yet to address is the staggering toll on health care professionals. Cuomo is talking about an interdependent hospital system that breaks down the walls between public, private, small and large hospitals. He also appealed to health professionals in other places not now pressed by the outbreak to come to New York and volunteer their help. Can Trump assist on a national scale?

A supervisor urged surgeons at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan to volunteer for the front lines because half of the hospital's intensive-care staff had already been sickened by coronavirus. “ICU is EXPLODING,” she wrote in an email, The New York Times reported.

Rhetorical reversal

While parading in and praising corporate leaders for helping with resources, Trump said Monday at the White House: "The economy is No. 2 on my list, first I want to save lives."

Just a week ago, Trump was talking in a different direction. "Our country was not built to be shut down," he said. "We are going to be opening up our country for business because our country was meant to be open."

Biden's bounce

Maybe not being able to run around to campaign serves front-runner Democratic candidate Joe Biden well. Or maybe he's benefiting from the underlying issues, such as the economy.

The latest Harvard-CAPS poll shows the former vice president with 55% to Trump's 45% among registered voters. Biden shows 96% support among Democrats; Trump has 89% support among Republicans. Independents break for Biden by a 54% to 46% margin. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the other Democratic candidate, appeared to be besting Trump 53% to 47% among registered voters.

Overall, the president’s job approval rating is at 48%, just below his highest ever, but 55% now say the economy is on the wrong track.

What else is happening:

  • The Justice Department is investigating the timing of stock sell-offs by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and possibly other lawmakers who'd received confidential virus briefings in February, The Washington Post reports.
  • Gun shops are essential businesses during the health crisis, the Trump administration has ruled.
  • A federal judge on Monday blocked a Texas policy that temporarily prohibited most abortions as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier, the state had already banned elective surgeries.
  • House Democrats are moving quickly on ambitious plans for a fourth relief package, Politico reports.
  • One Bloomberg News columnist proclaims an end to the "Obama-Trump economy."
  • Glenn Fine, the acting Pentagon inspector general, will lead a committee to oversee implementation of the $2.2 trillion relief bill Trump signed last week.
  • Trump has spoken in public three times of a “friend” he says is in a coma. This person has not been publicly identified.

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