Trump’s Coronavirus Press Event Was Even Worse Than It Looked

Maria J. Danford

The president went on: “If there’s a doctor that wants a test, if there’s somebody coming off a ship like the big monster ship that’s out there right now, which, you know, again, that’s a big decision. Do I want to bring all those people off? People would like me […]

The president went on: “If there’s a doctor that wants a test, if there’s somebody coming off a ship like the big monster ship that’s out there right now, which, you know, again, that’s a big decision. Do I want to bring all those people off? People would like me to do that. I don’t like the idea of doing that.”

He was referring, almost certainly, to a cruise ship currently anchored off the California coast, the Grand Princess, with more than 3,500 people on board. The Grand Princess recently sailed from San Francisco to Mexico and back; two people on that trip got sick with what turned out to be Covid-19, and one died. Dozens of passengers stayed on board for a subsequent trip from San Francisco to Hawaii and back. For now, the ship isn’t allowed to dock. Vice President Pence has announced that after an airlift brought test kits to the ship, it turns out that 21 of 46 people tested are positive for the virus. Apparently people on the cruise ship first heard that news via … the news, and the Vice President’s announcement. They hadn’t been otherwise informed. Friday night, the US Coast Guard took one passenger off the ship by helicopter.

The president seems not to want to allow passengers out of their quarantine on board the ship and into quarantine on land. It wasn’t clear at the CDC why sick people on board the Grand Princess wouldn’t get counted in US numbers of infected people, or why he thinks that accounting is relevant, but it very much sounded like the president didn’t want to bring sick people to safety and medical care because doing so might make him look bad. “I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” the president said. Apparently what that means is that he doesn’t want the numbers of sick people to reflect the actual numbers of sick people—a statistic that would help researchers understand the spread of the disease. (See above.) “They would like to quarantine people. Now when they do that our numbers are going to go up.” (Charitably, the president could have meant that keeping people on the ship together, when many are sick, could exacerbate the situation, as it did during the two-week quarantine in Japan of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, after which six passengers died.)

Back on the subject of coronavirus testing, the president continued to insist that not only were there enough tests available, but they worked perfectly. To make that point, he fell back on an older talking point: “The tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. This is not as perfect as that, but pretty good.”

By “transcription” the president seems to have been referring here to the misleadingly summarized phone call he had with the president of Ukraine that led to President Trump’s impeachment? The two things have no connection with one another except perhaps the fact that the president here chose the word “perfect,” which he’d also frequently used about his discussions with the Ukranian president.

Then the president returned to another old talking point—that because one of his relatives was a scientist, he, too, is good at science. A reporter started asking a question, and Trump cut her off: “I like this stuff. You know my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like, a record number of years. He was a great supergenius, Dr. John Trump.”

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