President Donald Trump “got it right away” when presented with data about the rise in coronavirus cases that influenced his decision on extending social distancing guidelines, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Monday.
“We showed him the data. He looked at the data and he got it right away,” Fauci told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “It was a pretty clear picture. Dr. Debbie Birx and I went in together in the Oval Office and leaned over the desk and said, ‘Here are the data. Take a look.’ He looked at them, he understood them and he just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we got to do it.’”
Trump said Sunday he would extend nationwide social distancing guidelines for another 30 days, an abrupt step back from his recent push to reopen the country more quickly.
The 15-day guidelines Trump announced two weeks ago were set to expire on Monday, and the President had suggested over the past week that he was looking to relax them, at least in some parts of the country.
Fauci said they “strongly argued” with the President on not lifting those guidelines.
“We felt that if we prematurely pulled back, we would only form an acceleration or a rebound of something which would have put you behind where you were before,” Fauci said. “And that’s the reason why we argued strongly with the President, that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them. And he did listen.”
There are more than 139,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with more than 2,400 deaths. Trump said Sunday that modeling shows that the peak of the death rate will likely hit in two weeks, but stressed that he hopes the country will “be well on our way to recovery, we think by June 1.”
During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday, Fauci said the US could eventually see 100,000 or more deaths. Asked Monday if he thought that estimate was a reasonable projection with mitigation measures such as contact tracing and isolating infected people in place, Fauci said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths.”
“If you look at seasonal flu, we had a bad season in 2017-18. We lost over 60,000 people just in a seasonal flu. This is clearly worse than that. So I would not be surprised. I don’t want to see it. I’d like to avoid it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths.”
This story has been updated with additional comments and background information.