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If death toll is under 100,000, will Trump call it a win?

President Donald Trump leaves after speaking Wednesday at

President Donald Trump leaves after speaking Wednesday at the White House briefing. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

Newsday is opening this story to all readers as we provide Long Islanders with news and information you can use during the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates

Not numbed to the numbers, yet

A statistical model closely watched at the White House has lowered its estimate for U.S. coronavirus deaths through August to about 60,000. Such is the state of the pandemic-stricken union that the projection was greeted as good news. It's down from the 94,000 estimated last week.

"If we could stay substantially under the 100,000, which was the original projection, I think we all did a very good job — even though it’s a lot of people," President Donald Trump said at Wednesday's coronavirus briefing. “The big projection being 2.2 million people would die if we did nothing!” he said. “That was another decision we made. Close it up. That was a big decision that we made.”

The White House's team of coronavirus experts also knocked down an idea circulating in pro-Trump media that the death count — approaching 15,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University medical school's worldwide monitoring — might be exaggerated because those with underlying conditions could have succumbed to other causes.

"Those individuals will have an underlying condition, but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it's related to COVID infection. In fact, it's the opposite," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Moreover, the most authoritative counts are missing untold numbers of others who died without ever getting tested. New York City officials pointed to a recent surge in the number of people dying at home, now at 200 a day.

Trump reiterated his eagerness to reopen the country after the pandemic peaks. "Soon we’ll be over that curve. We’ll be over the top and we’ll be headed in the right direction. I feel strongly about that,” he said. But unlike when he once suggested Easter Sunday as the goal, Trump said, "I can’t tell you in terms of the date." In one of his strongest statements of commitment to stay-at-home recommendations, the president warned the rate of infection could “start going up if we’re not careful."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said that if the existing guidelines asking people to practice social distancing through the end of April are successful in restraining the spread of the virus, more relaxed recommendations could be in order.

In a baby step toward reopening the country, the Trump administration issued new guidelines Wednesday to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to get back to work if they do not have symptoms. (Read them here.)

Polls see tilt against Trump

A new wave of polls is finding dissatisfaction with Trump's management of the coronavirus package.

In a Quinnipiac survey, 55% of registered voters say that he has not acted aggressively enough, while 41% said his response has been about right.

A 55% majority of Americans in a CNN poll now say the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread of the disease, up 8 points in about a week. A majority, 52%, say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the coronavirus outbreak, and 45% approve.

A 52%-to-38% majority in a Politico-Morning Consult poll said they believed former President Barack Obama would have been a better leader during the pandemic than Trump. However, more voters selected Trump (44%) as a better leader during the crisis than former Vice President Joe Biden (36%).

Another question was phrased differently: Who would you trust more to handle the coronavirus issue? On that one, Biden edged Trump, 40% to 39%.

It's Biden vs. Trump as Bernie exits

Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his presidential bid on Wednesday, making Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee for a campaign against Trump that will be waged against the backdrop of the pandemic.

"The path toward victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders told supporters Wednesday. He called Biden a “very decent man” but didn’t offer an explicit endorsement.

The Vermont senator also said his name would remain on the ballot for the remaining primaries so he can gain more delegates and “exert significant influence” on the Democratic platform to push his progressive agenda.

Biden paid tribute to Sanders. "He created a movement,” the former vice president said. “That’s a good thing for our nation and our future." He appealed to Sanders' supporters to line up with him against Trump.

Trump tried to stir the pot against Biden, insinuating in a tweet that Democratic leaders ganged up on Sanders — "same as the Crooked Hillary fiasco" in 2016 and that "The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party."

Janison: Firing up the blamethrower

While there are signs the coronavirus curve may be flattening, Trump's blame curve is on the rise, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The president is hardly the only one who faults the World Health Organization for being lulled at a critical time by excessive coziness with China, which failed to make timely disclosures of its outbreak. But Trump, under unrelenting scrutiny for his own tardy actions, has now run to the front of the chorus against WHO, even as he remains restrained about China.

Trump said the UN agency was "minimizing the threat" and got everything "wrong."

Apart from the coronavirus crisis, Trump remains a habitual blame-tosser on any number of subjects. One example: pushing back at calls for expanding mail-in balloting to help voters keep safe as he renews his false claims of massive voter fraud.

Mail-in ballots, Trump said, are "a very dangerous thing for this country." He did not say how that squares with members of the military and medical shut-ins regularly using that voting method.

Was New York too slow to act?

While Trump's faulty assurances that coronavirus wouldn't get out of control have come under harsh scrutiny, other experts say New York officials share some blame for not taking drastic steps sooner to stop the spread, The New York Times reported.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the former head of CDC and a New York City health commissioner during Michael Bloomberg's administration, estimated the death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50% to 80% if the state and city had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier.

Trump's failure to mobilize the federal government was one factor. But also, the Times found, initial efforts by New York officials to stem the outbreak were hampered by their own confused guidance, unheeded warnings, delayed decisions and political infighting. Expressions of confidence they were keeping ahead of the threat weren't borne out.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said they had no misgivings and asserted that their efforts spurred the Trump administration to act more decisively. “Every action I took was criticized at the time as premature,” Cuomo said in an interview, adding: “The facts have proven my decisions correct.” De Blasio said, “We’re dealing with a virus that’s only months old and science that changes by the day.”

Looking up from the hole

New York State will get more money in the next coronavirus spending bill, but it might not be as much as Cuomo wants as he tries to balance his budget, several of the state's Democratic House lawmakers said this week.

Republican and Democratic leaders are seeking agreement on an emergency aid bill that can be passed by unanimous consent in the Senate Thursday and by the House on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed adding $250 billion for the popular small-business loan programs.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded that the interim bill also include $150 billion for state and local governments — which could help New York State — along with $100 billion for hospitals and a 15% increase in the maximum benefit to supplemental nutrition assistance for families. For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

More news on coronavirus

See a roundup of the latest pandemic news from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones.

For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Newsday's Brune has numbers on block grants and other aid going to Nassau and Suffolk counties and New York State from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March to address the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Hospitals in Sweden have stopped using the malaria drug chloroquine on coronavirus patients after reports it was causing blinding headaches and vision loss. That's part of the family of drugs Trump has touted a potential "game changer" treatment. Elsewhere, clinical trials of the drug continue.
  • In Wednesday's briefing, Trump also advised adding zinc to the drug cocktail. On MSNBC, medical expert Dr. Vin Gupta found the comment "mystifying."
  • Cuomo announced that New York voters will be able to cast absentee ballots for the state’s primary on June 23. “New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between their health and their civic duty,” he tweeted. He hasn't decided yet whether to eliminate in-person voting for the day because of coronavirus. See Newsday's story by Yancey Roy.
  • What will voters who don't like either Trump or Biden do in November? The new Quinnipiac poll finds Biden has a 32-point advantage with them, notes The Washington Post. In 2016, Trump had a 17-point advantage with those who liked neither him nor Hillary Clinton.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the government has brought home more than 50,000 Americans who were stranded in 90 countries abroad since the start of the pandemic.
  • Rapid-turnaround COVID-19 tests are being conducted at the White House on guests visiting Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

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